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Racial bias reports threaten Tulane med school accreditation

July 12, 2021 GMT

Associated Press (AP) — Allegations of racial discrimination in the Tulane University School of Medicine’s Graduate Medical Education program have prompted an accrediting organization to put the school on probation.

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The move by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, which accredits institutions, such as Tulane’s medical school, that sponsor residency programs for new doctors, comes months after a Black faculty member filed a federal lawsuit alleging instances of bias in recruiting and promotion. She also alleges that retaliatory actions were taken against her for complaining about the discrimination, which the dean of the medical school has denied.

ACGME did not release information on what specific allegations of discrimination led to the probation. The school remains accredited.

But the probationary status means an institution “has failed to demonstrate substantial compliance” with ACGME requirements. Current residents and fellows at the school and applicants for positions have to be notified of the status in writing, according to the ACGME statement. Loss of accreditation would mean a loss of federal grants and an end to Medicaid funding for training.

ACGME officials visited the school in April and another visit and review is expected in January or February, ACGME spokesperson Susan White said in an email.

Dr. Lee Hamm, dean of the medical school, said in a Saturday letter to students and faculty that the school was notified of the probation on July 2.

“On behalf of myself and the entire Tulane School of Medicine administration, we respect this decision and pledge to do everything necessary to resolve the issues in a timely manner,” Hamm wrote.

Steps outlined in the letter include the establishment of a task force made up of “a diverse cross-section of faculty, residents, students and staff” and charged with “evaluating our reporting systems and structures to respond to reports of mistreatment and unprofessionalism of any kind.”

The ACGME statement said the organization became aware of public reports of racial bias at Tulane’s GME program in February. That was the same month that ACGME issued a statement, not specifically aimed at Tulane, that it had “become aware of several serious allegations of racial bias and discrimination in medical education.”

A med school faculty member, Dr. Princess Dennar, filed a federal discrimination lawsuit in October. Dennar, an assistant professor of medicine and pediatrics, alleges instances of discrimination dating back to 2008 and says there were complaints from seven Black female residents made to ACGME in 2018.

The original lawsuit and subsequent filings by Dennar’s lawyers also allege retaliatory actions, including her removal earlier this year from her position as a director of the school’s medicine and pediatrics program.

“While I deeply empathize with the students, residents, fellows, and many of my colleagues who may be unfairly impacted by Tulane’s probationary status — and I continue to offer my support to them — I believe that ACGME’s action is a positive step toward addressing concerns raised by myself and others about racism, sexism, and retaliation at Tulane University,” Dennar said in an emailed statement Thursday.

Hamm has denied Dennar’s specific allegations of racism and retaliation to New Orleans news outlets. And the medical school is fighting the lawsuit in federal court.

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This story has been corrected to clarify that the ACGME does not provide training through residencies. It accredits institutions, such as Tulane’s medical school, that sponsor residency programs for new doctors.