University gains re-accreditation through 2025 

The Philippine Accrediting Association for Schools, Colleges and Universities (PAASCU) has extended Oceania University of Medicine’s accreditation through 2025, thus validating OUM’s program as competitive on the world stage and ensuring that its graduates may practice in most countries.

This news caps a year-long self-study of University areas of faculty, curriculum & instruction, clinical training facilities, research, students, library, administration, and facilities & other resources. In early March, the site visit team of four prominent medical educators and a leading librarian visited OUM in Australia and New Zealand, with planned visits to Samoa and the United States cut short due to the coronavirus.

As a result of COVID-19 concerns and related travel bans in the Philippines, PAASCU’s Board of Directors recently suspended all site visits for the next 12 months, which would have delayed OUM’s re-accreditation. However, upon the enthusiastic recommendation of OUM’s reviewers, PAASCU’s Commission on Medical Education convinced the PAASCU Board to grant OUM its full accreditation for another five years.

Early impressions, lasting Impressions

The reviewers were most impressed with what they heard and saw in Melbourne and Auckland, and because the group’s chairperson had previously visited clinical sites in Samoa and the USA, the panel felt confident that it would see the same results, if not better. Therefore, they felt there was no need to continue with those visits.

“Congratulations to all for contributing to the ongoing processes of accreditation with PAASCU over the past five years,” says Dr. Viali Lameko, Vice Chancellor. “I look forward to another five years of working together to achieve even more great news for our institution.”

During the site visit, the PAASCU team commented on how excellent, thorough, and “voluminous” the reports and accompanying exhibits were. Extensive interviews with students, graduates, faculty, administration, and staff confirmed what the team saw in the reports.

“We are proud of the University’s accomplishments and this international recognition of OUM’s excellence, and we are most appreciative of the people of Samoa for their ongoing hospitality toward our students and faculty, who so value the opportunity to study and work there,” says Taffy Gould, OUM’s founder and Chairman of the OUM Council.

Self-study teams

Ten teams compared the performance of OUM operations against a self-study survey instrument used by PAASCU for the medical schools in the Philippines. Students, graduates, faculty, and administrators participated in the self-study exercise, which included identifying areas of strengths and weaknesses and making recommendations for improvement. Chairing each area’s efforts were:

  • Faculty: Dr. Paula Diamante, Director of Faculty Affairs
  • Curriculum & Instruction: Dr. Scott Cunningham, Director of Curriculum
  • Clinical Service & Training Facilities: Dr. Sarmad Ghazi, Dean for North America
  • Community Education Program: Dr. Ghazi
  • Research: Dr. Randell Brown, Deputy Vice Chancellor & Director of Research
  • Students: Joy Braun, Associate Director for Administration
  • Library: Else Talbot, Librarian
  • Administration: Chris Dudley, Deputy Vice Chancellor for Administration & Student Affairs
  • Facilities & Other Resources: Greg Bieber, Chief Information Officer
  • Continuous Improvement: Chris Dudley

Using input from team members along with data from student and faculty surveys and other performance indicators, each team rated its area’s performance according to the standards specified by the survey instrument and then compiled a written report.

Totaling 928 pages, the reports were submitted to PAASCU in January, when Dr. Brown and Chris Dudley traveled to Manila to give an overview of OUM to the accreditation team and to prepare the team for the site visit to four countries.

“Putting all this together over the past year has been a whirlwind,” says Dudley, who has overseen OUM’s accreditation effort since the beginning. “That OUM has only completed its 18th year, with a decade of full accreditation and another five years just earned is pretty incredible.”

All-star review team

Led by a PAASCU executive, the review team was a “Who’s Who” of Filipino medical education:

  • Aurora Bauzon (Chair), Professor of Medicine, University of Santo Tomas, who had served on previous site visits to OUM
  • Isidro Sia, Professor of Medicine (Retired), University of the Philippines and Executive Director, Integrative Medicine for Alternative Healthcare Systems
  • Hida Dina Gonzales, Professor of Medicine, De La Salle Medical & Health Sciences Institute
  • Agaton Panopio, Professor, Master of Health Professions Education Program, Xavier University
  • Marilou Tadlip, Former Head, National Committee on Libraries and Information Services

The team flew from the Philippines to Melbourne in early March to attend the Australia-New Zealand Student Conference, where they interviewed students, graduates, faculty, and administration to ensure that the written reports match reality. In addition, they received a demonstration of the OUM Student Information System, observed student learning activities and a clinical student in action with a patient, and witnessed an OUM Graduation ceremony.

In Auckland, led by Dr. C.S. Benjamin, Dean for New Zealand and the Asia-Pacific, the team had tours of clinical facilities where OUM students rotate and met with clinical supervisors and medical students.

The team was not able to visit Samoa, as scheduled, because airline service was suspended due to coronavirus concerns.

The findings

The PAASCU team awarded OUM an overall score of 3.57 out of 5.00 in 10 study areas, which is well between “good: provision is met and functioning adequately” and “very good: provision is moderately extensive and functioning well.” In 2015, OUM’s overall score of eight areas was 3.37 out of a perfect 5.00.

“The scores of all areas were well above a 3.00, which is really good for us,” says Dudley. “We’ve worked hard during the past five years to address the team’s recommendations and to improve our overall performance.”

Among other things, the PAASCU team was complimentary of (quoting from their findings):

  • “highly-dedicated faculty with passion for teaching and compassion for learners;
  • the well-designed curricular tracks that cater to diverse types of learners;
  • the availability of various opportunities for clinical rotation in advanced centers, and the dedicated physician mentors;
  • the involvement of the institution in the provision of health services in Samoa with the aim of training physicians who will eventually practice in the region;
  • institutionalization of the weekly Research Club where advisors and students interact on the progress and problems of the students’ research projects;
  • medical students [are] very mature and highly motivated to realize their lifelong dream to become medical doctors, with various backgrounds and diversity allowing interaction and enriching cultural exchange with one another;
  • commendable the single access to all learning resources through the Student Information System platform;
  • the dynamic OUM administrative organization with the appointment of a new leadership team since 2015;
  • the available extensive online resources that are essential for a distance learning academic institution;
  • and, the regular semiannual strategic planning of the administration and school officials, and the fortnightly meetings of the Steering Committee that make them aware of issues and concerns that need immediate attention.”

PAASCU’s recommendations for the next five years include (quoting from their findings):

  • “developing a long-term faculty development program especially on medical education, clinical skills, and advising;
  • designing higher-order examination questions to evaluate clinical problem-solving and reasoning skills;
  • establish relationships with additional Australian clinical facilities, and US clinical affiliations;
  • incorporating patient education programs in the clinical training activities of the students rotating in the primary care setting;
  • increasing research output focusing on the health needs of Samoa and its other island nations;
  • forming a strong alumni association to enhance loyalty to the school and stronger ties between the alumni and the students;
  • developing a robust electronic collection for medical specialties and a subscription to an international journal for medical students;
  • forging academic and scholarly linkages with other institutions, consortia, and foundations;
  • the development of a customized clinical rotation management utility to assure a certain degree of uniformity in student skills while rotating in different clinical facilities;
  • developing an evaluation tool for regular evaluation of the following: administration, school officials, administrative staff, faculty, students, and academic program for regular monitoring and evaluation.”

As it has done in the wake of previous accreditation reports, OUM’s administration will review the recommendations and develop implementation plans via the University’s strategic planning process.

The significance of accreditation

When establishing the world’s first distance learning program in medical education, OUM leaders knew early in the University’s existence that external validation would be essential to its acceptance within the medical profession. In addition, medical licensing and registration authorities require physicians practicing in their jurisdictions to have graduated from an accredited medical school.

Because Samoa is a small country without the resources needed to accredit a medical education program to international standards, in 2005 OUM began a two-year search for an accreditation body willing to evaluate its program.

In 2007, PAASCU’s then-executive director visited OUM in Samoa and agreed to champion the University’s cause with her organization. At that time, PAASCU was one of 20 accrediting bodies in the world that met the US Department of Education’s National Committee for Foreign Medical Education Accreditation’s standards.

OUM applied for accreditation with PAASCU, conducted a self-study, underwent a site visit, and was granted “candidate” status in 2009.

In 2010, following another detailed self-study and site visit to measure the implementation of the recommendations made by the PAASCU team the prior year, OUM was granted full accreditation.

In 2015, a new Chancellery—Drs. Lameko and Brown and Chris Dudley—undertook the internal survey of OUM’s program and the related site visits, resulting in the re-accreditation for an additional five years. One of PAASCU’s recommendations at that time called for a more robust strategic planning process, which OUM implemented and PAASCU praised in 2020.

In 2010, Education Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG) announced that physicians interested in practicing in the United States in 2023 and beyond must have graduated from a medical school approved by an accrediting body recognized by the World Federation of Medical Education (WFME). As of 2020, WFME reports that only 21 accrediting agencies worldwide have achieved WFME recognition with many others in process. Due to restrictions imposed by COVID-19, ECFMG announced that the deadline would be extended to 2024. PAASCU is among the accrediting agencies whose WFME application is in process. WFME’s planned October visit to the Philippines will be rescheduled and PAASCU’s WFME recognition will be completed well before the 2024 deadline. Other countries have indicated an interest in following ECFMG’s lead in requiring foreign medical graduates to come from schools accredited by bodies recognized by WFME.

Founded in 1957, PAASCU is the world’s third oldest service organization that accredits academic programs to meet standards of quality education. Since 1991, PAASCU has been a full member of the International Network for Quality Assurance Agencies in Higher Education, which is composed of 200 accrediting agencies in more than 90 different countries. PAASCU also is a founding member of the Asia-Pacific Quality Network. PAASCU is affiliated with the Washington, DC-based Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) – a private, nonprofit organization that coordinates accreditation activity in the United States – and a member of the CHEA International Quality Group (CIQG), a forum for colleges, universities and accrediting organizations established in 2012 to address issues and challenges focused on quality and quality assurance in an international setting. For more information, visit www.paascu.org.ph.

The Samoa Qualifications Authority (SQA) coordinates and provides quality assurance to Post School Education and Training (PSET) in Samoa, which refers to all institutions or organizations that offer education and training that occur outside the early childhood, primary and secondary education system, using any structured mode of delivery. SQA recognizes OUM and its accreditation with PAASCU.