In January, Nova Southeastern University’s College of Osteopathic Medicine received approval for a new medical specialty—correctional medicine—that was developed at the college in collaboration with the Florida Department of Corrections. The college became the first medical school in the country to gain such recognition when the standards developed by the college for this distinct specialty were approved by the American Osteopathic Association. The College now has the first accredited and approved correctional medicine fellowship program in the country.
The classification of correctional medicine as a medical specialty is an important milestone because recent statistics show that 7.1 million men and women are under adult correctional supervision, and more than 1.5 million are cared for by physicians who work full time in this challenging environment.
David Thomas, M.D., J.D., professor and chair of the College’s Department of Surgery and Division of Correctional Medicine, described the innovation as “very, very rare. The last new specialty I can remember was the creation of emergency medicine in 1976.”
The College established a two-year correctional medicine fellowship in 2010 that offers broad interdisciplinary experience in oncology, radiation therapy, orthopedic surgery, and hospice care and leads to both board certification and a master of public health degree. The program includes inpatient/outpatient supervised clinical experience in acute and chronic settings in jails/prisons, medicolegal experiences and responsibilities, quality management and review, and mortality review and control.
The new correctional medicine specialty represents a milestone in medical treatment. “Correctional health care was looked upon for many years as a last refuge of barely competent practitioners,” Thomas explained. “It is not. It is a complex, intricate field where you are taking care of people, many of whom are very ill, because they have not accessed care outside of the correctional environment—ever. It takes sophisticated doctors with significant training to handle both the illnesses and the unique correctional environment. This is the first step in bringing recognition to the care that correctional doctors provide.”
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