Volume 12, Number 4 October 8, 2004

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Medical departments to get single heads

By Colleen MacPherson

A new procedure for appointing a single head of academic departments in the College of Medicine and their corresponding clinical departments within the Saskatoon Health Region will go a long way to alleviating what the Dean of Medicine terms the “town/gown tension”.

Dr. William Albritton said there are some 700 community-based physicians “who make a significant contribution (to the education of students) but have nothing to say in the processes of our academic departments. It is unfair to ask community faculty to accept the University’s hiring process ... but this proposed structure is fair and collegial.”

Dean William Albritton
Dean William Albritton

At its meeting in late September, the U of S Board of Governors approved a Letter of Understanding between the University and the U of S Faculty Association that clears the way to hiring what are termed single headships. That letter sets out new search and appointment procedures that ensure equal representation and participation in the hiring process by both the University and the health region.

The new procedure has also been ratified by the faculty association and the Saskatoon Region Medical Association, and it is going to a meeting of the Saskatoon Regional Health Authority later this month with a recommendation that it be endorsed.

The need for single headships came about due to a fundamental change in the approach medical schools take to educating students. The dean explained that university hospitals were typically built in conjunction with medical colleges to provide hands-on training for young doctors. They also provided a place for faculty to both teach and practise medicine.

“It was an excellent model” but as hospitals became more fast-paced and more acute, they became less conducive to educating students. Gone are the days, for example, of patients spending time in hospital prior to surgery, and that means lost teaching and learning time.

“Patients come in in the morning and leave in the afternoon,” said Albritton. “The student sees nothing.”

This situation precipitated the shift toward educating students under the supervision of community-based faculty, he said, but there was no provision for those physicians to be formally involved in the academic departments. The result – competitive tension between University-based physicians and their community-based colleagues.

By combining academic departments with their corresponding clinical departments in the Saskatoon Health Region under a single head, Albritton believes the town/gown tension can be relieved.

There has been some success finding single heads using the University’s old hiring procedure. Single headships have been appointed in the departments of medicine, psychiatry, and obstetrics and gynecology, he said, but efforts to do the same in surgery were unsuccessful. As academic department head positions come open, the new hiring procedure will be implemented. This year, it will be used to fill headships in pathology, diagnostic imaging and surgery.

The greatest benefit for both the University and the health region is in the consolidation of resources that will then be “managed as a single entity,” Albritton said, resulting in enhanced service, education and research.

Single departments are also expected to be a boon for the college in its recruitment and retention efforts. By combining, for example, the departments of internal medicine, the number of positions rises from the 37 currently in the academic department to 100 in the combined department. “If I were being recruited and saw that number, I’d think that I’d died and gone to heaven.”

For more information, contact communications.office@usask.ca

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