The ULL Medicine School’s Administration and Faculty Sound Alarm on Threats to Continuity

The Canarias Medical Union (CESM), in collaboration with the University of La Laguna’s (ULL) Faculty of Medicine and the Official College of Physicians of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, recently organised an event titled Past, Present, and Future of ULL’s Faculty of Health Sciences in response to the uncertain future of medical studies in Tenerife and the serious threat to continuity faced by the ULL’s Faculty of Medicine, as highlighted by the management team and educators.

The event shed light on the critical juncture facing Health Sciences faculties, grappling with various challenges that impact their clinical programmes, challenges stemming from the stringent requirements set by the National Agency for Quality Assessment and Accreditation (ANECA), as well as the additional responsibilities borne by the teaching staff.

ANECA’s requirements, essential for programme and faculty accreditation, mandate a high standard of teaching and research quality. This means educators must not only meet their teaching duties but also maintain a consistent output of high-quality scientific work, the speakers emphasised.

“The dual role of educators engaged in healthcare services adds another layer of complexity. Balancing clinical obligations with teaching responsibilities often results in demanding schedules that limit their availability and time for teaching and research,” stated Ramón Castro, President of CESM Canarias in Tenerife.

Another concern highlighted by Ramón Castro is “the ageing demographic of tenured faculty, a growing worry. Many of these professors are nearing retirement age, leading to a wave of recent retirements and anticipating more in the near future.”

Castro emphasised that a majority of these positions have been left vacant due to retirements, without replacements. This underscores the urgency to train and accredit new educators capable of filling these roles, ensuring educational quality and continuity. “The limited availability of public vacancies and a scarcity of health professionals willing to meet ANECA’s demands have resulted in an overwhelming teaching burden for current faculty,” he added.

Consequently, as highlighted by the CESM President in Tenerife, universities have turned to healthcare professionals with ‘venia docendi’, who volunteer to teach, mainly young experts lacking formal teaching and research training.

Castro noted that these positions are not appointed by the administration but are self-nominated by healthcare professionals and endorsed by a professor. They operate without a formal contract and receive no compensation from the University of La Laguna.

A new position of contracted doctoral professor, similar to an interim full professor, has recently been introduced. The accreditation process for this role by the Canarian Agency for University Quality and Educational Evaluation (ACCUEE) has streamlined procedures with less stringent requirements compared to ANECA, according to Ramón Castro.

“Numerous healthcare professionals have secured this accreditation. However, the dearth of public openings has led to many rejecting these positions due to the overwhelming dual workload of patient care and teaching, resulting in reduced pay. The excessive teaching load, which includes classes, tutorials, seminars, and assessments, is a critical factor that could contribute to educator burnout, impacting the quality of education. Furthermore, limited time for research may impede progress in healthcare innovations, hindering the development of new techniques and treatments beneficial to society.”

“University and governmental policies must adapt to facilitate the training and accreditation of new educators, streamlining processes without compromising quality. Promoting continuous professional development and support programmes is imperative to ensure educators stay abreast of advancements in their field and continue to make meaningful contributions to education and research,” he concluded.

In closing, Ramón Castro stressed the importance of Health Sciences faculties tackling these challenges proactively, striving for a balance that upholds educational and healthcare standards while grooming a new cohort of educators to safeguard the future of these vital institutions.

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