Overview of Accreditation Process
The goal of LCME accreditation is to evaluate whether a school is compliant with the peer-established accreditation standards, and to foster critical self-assessment among key institutional stakeholders. Medical students play an important role in this process. While a medical school is expected to monitor its performance in the elements for accreditation on an on-going basis, for existing schools, a survey team composed of peer medical educators and practitioners (and sometimes medical students) will visit the school over a three or four day period once every eight years in order to review the school’s performance in the elements related to each accreditation standard. A new medical school will undergo three survey visits before its first class graduates. For more details about the timeline for various steps in the LCME accreditation process, please view the Accreditation Process Overview page.
During the 18-24 month period leading up to a full survey visit, a medical school engages in a process of data collection and analysis (i.e., “the self-study”) that culminates in the submission of a multi-document survey package to the LCME Secretariat and members of the survey team. The survey package consists of the completed Data Collection Instrument (DCI), which contains the school’s answer to questions related to each element; the appendix of supporting documents for each DCI section; the Self-study report, which is the school’s self-analysis of its performance in each element; the Independent Student Analysis (ISA), which is a student-developed self-study; and the AAMC Medical School Graduation Questionnaire (AAMC GQ), if available.
Student Participation in Accreditation
The LCME is known internationally for its leadership in engaging medical students in the accreditation process, both at the individual school level and by participation as full voting members of the LCME.
At the school level, student participation in preparations for a full accreditation review and survey visit is extensive.
The self-study that each school conducts in anticipation of the every-eight-year full survey visit requires broad engagement from institutional stakeholder groups, institutional support, and thoughtful, honest reflection by all participants. The resulting self-study report should provide a forthright evaluation of programmatic quality and resources and should serve as a guide for planning institutional change. Student involvement on the various self-study committees is common among accreditors; what makes the LCME unique the additional creation of an Independent Student Analysis (ISA) of the medical education program.
The LCME has specific publications that describe the role of students in the accreditation of medical education programs in the U.S., including publications that provide additional information regarding student participation in both full surveys of existing schools and provisional surveys of new schools. To read these documents, see the LCME publications page. Briefly, medical students participate in a school’s self-study in three ways:
- Students are included in some or all of the self-study committees that the school forms to examine for themselves their performance in relation to the expectations indicated in the peer-based standards and elements.
- At the same time that the school initiates its self-study process, the student leadership will begin an independent review of relevant topic areas, including such things as the medical education program, student services, the learning environment, and the adequacy of educational resources. This review is initiated with a survey constructed by students and administered to all enrolled students using a recommended set of questions and analysis format as contained in the document titled The Role of Students in the Accreditation of Medical Education programs in the U.S. (See the LCME publications page). Students use the data collected through this survey to develop a comprehensive summary of students’ perceptions of their institution. Typically, the ISA is initially organized by members of the student government. Then, students from all years in the medical curriculum are invited to form a team with responsibility for planning the questionnaire, conducting the survey, analyzing the findings, and summarizing the results in the ISA. A broad-based and representative planning committee is useful to ensure that all perspectives are represented in the final ISA report. At a minimum, the survey of the student body should include the questions contained in the Role of Students publication; additional questions specific to the school’s medical education program can also be added to the survey. The school’s faculty accreditation lead should provide the same type of administrative support for the ISA as that afforded to other self-study groups. Although medical school officials can provide logistical support and technical advice to students to help them in conducting their survey and performing their analyses, they must not participate in the selection of questions for the student survey, the analysis of survey data, or the preparation of the ISA report. The student group also should review the school-specific results of the most recently administered AAMC Medical School Graduation Questionnaire (which the school should provide to the student group) and could use this information in the final ISA report.
- The survey team will meet formally with students during extended luncheon sessions on Monday and Tuesday of the survey visit. Team members will also inspect the school’s educational and student facilities, with students serving as tour guides; these tours provide an opportunity for informal discussions about the medical education program. During all discussions with students during the visit, the survey team will be gathering additional information, clarifying the data it has already received, and evaluating how well the medical education program complies with accreditation requirements, as specified in the elements associated with the 12 accreditation standards. At no time will individual students’ comments be referenced or quoted in the subsequent draft or final team reports.
In addition to medical students providing important information about their schools during the self-study, in the ISA, and during the actual survey visit, there are two medical student members of the LCME who have full voting privileges. Student members serve a one-year term on the LCME. These LCME student members will also participate as team members on a survey visit during their year on the LCME.
The LCME student member selection process begins with a call for nominations in the fall. Students are nominated by their dean, and nominees have typically been involved in either their school’s recent accreditation process or have served in other student leadership roles. They are usually in their final year of the medical curriculum. The review process for selection of LCME student members involves input from the national student organizations of the American Medical Association and the Association of American Medical Colleges. More information on the LCME student member process can be found in The Role of Students in the Accreditation of Medical Education programs in the U.S. (See the LCME publications page).
Existing medical schools undergo accreditation survey visits every eight years. New schools first move through the stages of preliminary accreditation and provisional accreditation prior to their becoming eligible for full accreditation status. Due to confidentiality issues, the only information about medical schools the LCME can share with the public is the school’s name, location (city and state), accreditation status, next survey date, and initial year of accreditation. All publicly available information from the LCME about developing and existing medical schools is available in the Medical School Directory.
Below are some frequently asked questions by students of the LCME regarding medical schools’ accreditation status.
What does a school’s LCME accreditation status mean for students?
- Medical education programs with Applicant or Candidate status are not LCME-accredited and may not recruit or advertise for applicants or accept applications for enrollment.
- Students who are enrolled in a medical education program that has preliminary, provisional, or full accreditation status are eligible to sit for the United Stated Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) and to enter the residency match and begin residency training following their medical school graduation.
- Students who are enrolled in a medical education program that has been placed on probation by the LCME are eligible to enter the residency match and begin residency training following their medical school graduation.
What happens to students who attend a school with preliminary or provisional accreditation, but the school does not achieve full accreditation status?
Once preliminary accreditation has been granted, the program may begin to recruit applicants and accept applications for enrollment. Medical education programs with preliminary or provisional accreditation are considered to be “accredited.” Most state medical licensing boards require that U.S. medical schools be accredited by the LCME as a condition for licensure of their graduates. For students enrolled in and graduates of an MD-granting medical school to be eligible to take the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Step examinations, their medical school must be LCME-accredited. Graduates of LCME-accredited medical schools are eligible for residency programs accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME), the accrediting body for residency training programs. The ACGME permits access to accredited residencies for students who are enrolled in or graduates of medical schools that have achieved preliminary, provisional, or full LCME accreditation status.
A new medical school is developing in a location of interest to me. How long will it take for it to achieve LCME accreditation?
The LCME Secretariat and staff cannot predict the probability of any future accreditation decisions. Please refer to the Accreditation Process Overview page to see a detailed overview of the timeline and deadlines for completion of the various steps for a developing program to achieve full accreditation by the LCME.
What are the risks of attending a new medical school that has recently achieved preliminary accreditation?
The LCME Secretariat and staff cannot provide opinions regarding any risk associated with attending a medical education program that has recently achieved preliminary accreditation status, nor can they advise on specific questions to ask a school’s admissions advisors/staff. Any concerns about a program’s accreditation status should be discussed with that medical school’s advisors/staff to ensure that you select a program that will meet your educational needs and goals.
What happens to students who attend a medical school that has had its LCME accreditation withdrawn?
If accreditation is withdrawn, the LCME itself does not facilitate potential student transfers to another medical school. However, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) may attempt to facilitate student transfers. Each medical school makes independent decisions about medical students seeking to transfer from another medical school.