The UA’s College of Medicine in Phoenix was founded 10 years ago and is graduating about 80 physicians per year.

Courtesy of University of Arizona college of Medicine-Phoenix 2015

The University of Arizona now has two separately accredited medical schools.

UA officials announced Wednesday that the UA College of Medicine-Phoenix, which was originally a branch of the UA’s Tucson medical school, was granted full accreditation by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME).

The LCME is the national accrediting authority for medical-education programs leading to M.D. degrees in the United States and Canada.

The accrediting authority completed its latest site visit earlier this spring. The LCME is expected to provide a comprehensive report within the next month detailing the site visit and the factors for granting full accreditation.

The full accreditation came earlier than expected. UA officials originally projected they would gain full accreditation in 2018.

Began as a branch

The UA College of Medicine-Phoenix was created 10 years ago as a branch campus of the UA College of Medicine-Tucson, which opened in 1967.

In 2012, the UA College of Medicine-Phoenix received “preliminary” accreditation with the LCME. That marked the point when students first were accepted as part of the separate accreditation, and also the beginning of a five-year process to full accreditation.

The next step of “provisional” accreditation was granted in 2015. Full accreditation was the final step.

To date, the UA College of Medicine-Phoenix has graduated 354 physicians, with classes of about 80 students per year.

During the accreditation process, more than 100 performance elements are evaluated to establish whether a medical school is in good standing.

“From my standpoint, it’s a wonderful signal that things are going well at the College of Medicine in Phoenix,” said Chic Older, executive vice president of the Arizona Medical Association, a statewide group made up of doctors, residents and medical students.

“They’ve got a terrific medical school and they’ve certainly become more stabilized. ... It’s a medical school students can be proud of graduating from.”

One year ago this month, the Arizona Medical Association asked for an investigation after a half-dozen of the Phoenix medical school’s top leaders left for positions out of state. Among those departures was the school’s dean, Dr. Stuart D. Flynn.

The UA recently hired a new dean to lead the school, Tennessee cardiologist Dr. Guy Reed. The UA also has a new interim senior vice president of health sciences, Dr. Leigh Neumayer, who oversees both medical schools. Neumayer replaced Dr. Joe G. N. “Skip” Garcia, who stepped down in December.

Older said interim dean Dr. Kenneth Ramos did an excellent job after Flynn’s departure and helped lead the Phoenix medical school through the accreditation.

“Dr. Leigh Neumayer is clearly stabilizing things as well,” Older said. “This is not some kind of miracle. This is a lot of hard work by a lot of people and is what we wanted, and it will only help the state.”

Five med schools

Having another fully accredited medical school is a key part of ensuring quality health care in Arizona in the future and also in addressing a doctor shortage. However, Older said another key is having enough residency spots and that the current level in Arizona is not enough.

There are now five medical schools in Arizona — the two UA medical schools; the Mayo Clinic School of Medicine, which is opening its Arizona campus in Scottsdale this summer; and Midwestern University and A.T. Still University, which both operate osteopathic medical schools in the Phoenix area.

A sixth medical school — Nebraska-based Creighton University School of Medicine — has medical students doing third- and fourth-year rotations in Arizona.

Milestone

Earning full accreditation is an important milestone, UA President Dr. Robert C. Robbins said in a prepared statement.

“Full accreditation assures students that they are getting an outstanding education and it demonstrates to Arizona residents that the University of Arizona is graduating exceptional physicians,” said Robbins, who is a cardiac surgeon.

Ramos, interim dean of the UA College of Medicine–Phoenix, received a call Friday from the LCME, notifying him that the college would move from provisional accreditation status to full accreditation, UA officials said Wednesday.

“This announcement acknowledges the strength and excellence of this college and our ability to transform today’s students into tomorrow’s health-care leaders,” said Neumayer.

Contact health reporter Stephanie Innes at 573-4134 or email sinnes@tucson.com. On Twitter: @stephanieinnes