Jeanne Heard, who has helped oversee the training of future physicians at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences for the past eight years, will take over a similar role on a far larger scale beginning in May.
Heard, assistant dean of graduate medical education at the UAMS College of Medicine in Little Rock, was recently appointed director of residency review committees for the Chicago-based Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education.
In her new job, the 54-year-old internist will oversee the work of the 27 residency review committees that monitor national standards for more than 7,900 council-accredited programs that are now training approximately 98,500 future physicians.
Heard says the job seemed appealing because her prime responsibility will be "making sure patients get good healthcare."
"We have to have standards, and the ACGME is the standard-setter," Heard says. "They're the ones that assure that teaching faculty adhere to those standards. And residents are entering this with the full expectation they're going to get what they need to be competent physicians. So they have to have faith in the educational system and the accreditation process."
Heard, who has spent the last eight years in her role overseeing medical education in Little Rock while also serving as a professor of internal medicine, says she hopes to bring a unique perspective to her new post as the top watchdog of the nation's residency programs and, by extension, her former colleagues in academia.
"I think I will bring (an academic's) perspective on how difficult the job of training physicians is to do," she says. "But I'm also committed to the mission of the ACGME."
Last year, about 26% of all residency programs were subject to routine accreditation review by the ACGME. Of those, 55 programs were placed on probation and 74 had their accreditation withdrawn, an indication that the process is tough on those programs that fail to measure up, Heard says.
While she considers national accreditation standards to be "rigorous," Heard says she still hopes to "tighten up the process." Among her top priorities will be ensuring that programs adhere to the council's new duty hours guidelines, which took effect in July 2003 and generally limit residents to 80-hour workweeks.
She replaces Marvin Dunn, a nationally known educator who died last July at the age of 71.
David Leach, the executive director of the council, says Heard "brings deep and broad experience to medical education, a serious commitment to improvement and sophisticated knowledge about the workings of graduate medical education."