Dismissal from Medical School After Cultural Conflicts

You've worked hard to get to medical school. And while you undoubtedly expected medical school to be an academic challenge, some people may face even more obstacles because of cultural differences between medical school staff and other students. Cultural issues can lead to misunderstandings, medical school staff simply failing to understand how your culture can affect your schooling, or discrimination. If a medical school takes unfair action against you because of your religion, race, or other protected categories, it may be a civil rights violation. An experienced medical school attorney-advisor can step in and assist.

Possible Disciplinary Issues in Medical School

In medical school, you can encounter several types of disciplinary issues stemming from cultural differences, including academic issues, code of conduct violations, and Title IX violations.

Academic Disciplinary Issues

Academic disciplinary issues can stem from low grades to more serious academic misconduct issues, such as cheating or plagiarism. The most common academic issues include:

  • Low grades
  • Failing to pass board exams
  • Unauthorized collaboration
  • Blackmail
  • Bribery
  • Hiding materials or sabotage
  • Reusing papers or other coursework without authorization
  • Fabricating data
  • Forgery
  • Cheating
  • Plagiarism
  • Impersonating another student
  • Failing to report others' academic misconduct

For example, if a professor gives you a failing grade because you miss an exam on a religious holiday, you could end up with the school bringing an academic disciplinary action against you for low grades. Most schools have a grade appeals process for students who believe they have an unfair grade because of cultural differences or any other issues. You can often submit an appeal to a dean with substantive evidence of why you believe your grade was unfair or incorrect. However, you typically have a limited period to bring such an appeal.

Punishments for academic issues or misconduct can include:

  • Written or verbal warnings
  • A failing grade on an assignment or exam
  • A failing grade in a class
  • Having to repeat a class or year
  • Academic probation
  • Suspension
  • Expulsion

The consequences of even an unfair grade because of cultural differences can be serious. That's why it's so important to speak with an experienced medical school attorney-advisor right away.

Code of Conduct Violations

Code of conduct violations in medical school can include anything that violates the school's code of conduct, including:

  • Theft
  • Drug violations
  • Social media violations
  • Assault
  • Piracy
  • Computer crimes
  • Destruction of property
  • Threats

For example, if you make a hyperbolic or joking threat against another student and they misunderstand your intent, you could find yourself facing an allegation or investigation of a code of conduct violation because of a cultural misunderstanding.

Each medical school will have its own policies and procedures for bringing and investigating code of conduct violations against students. Your school will typically set forth the process and your rights in your school policy and code of conduct documents. However, your school administration may not necessarily follow their procedures to the letter unless they know you have an attorney-advisor participating in the process.

Consequences for code of conduct violations can include:

  • Verbal or written warnings
  • Suspension
  • Bans from housing or certain academic buildings
  • Expulsion

The consequences of a misunderstanding about cultural differences at medical school can be serious. That's why you need an experienced medical school attorney-advisor to protect your rights.

Title IX Violations

In medical school, students can also find themselves the subject of Title IX violations involving sexual harassment or other sexual misconduct. Title IX refers to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. See 20 U.S.C. §1681 et seq. Title IX is a federal civil rights law prohibiting discrimination based on sex in federally funded schools. The law applies to public K through 12 schools and public and state colleges and universities, including medical schools. As a result, gender-based discrimination or harassment accusations will follow more specific guidelines and procedures than many allegations of code of conduct violations.

Under Title IX, federally funded schools must protect against gender-based discrimination during admissions, financial aid, and employment. Sexual harassment, sexual assault, stalking, intimate partner violence, and other sexually related crimes also violate Title IX. Cultural differences and misunderstandings can give rise to Title IX accusations as well. For example, students who were playfully wrestling with dating partners have faced accusations of intimate partner violence from observers in the past.

If your medical school knows about an incident that falls under Title IX, it must investigate and remedy the situation even if no student complains. Medical schools often have broad quasi-judiciary and investigative powers for Title IX complaints. When a school knows about a possible Title IX violation, it is obligated to:

  • Investigate the matter
  • End the problem and prevent it from recurring
  • Address the effects of the incident
  • Protect the complainant
  • Provide grievance procedures

However, as a medical student accused of a Title IX violation, you also have many due process rights under federal law and regulations, including:

  • The right to have an attorney or advisor represent you in the matter
  • The right to a hearing before a neutral arbiter
  • The right to question witnesses and evidence, including your accuser
  • The right to appeal, and more

The sanctions your medical school can impose for a Title IX violation include:

  • Written warnings
  • Requiring a formal apology
  • Probation
  • Suspension
  • A ban from dorms or change of living arrangements
  • Changes to your academic schedule
  • Losing a job
  • Losing scholarships
  • Restitution to the victim
  • Mandatory counseling
  • Revoking or withholding a degree
  • Expulsion from school

The consequences of a Title IX violation can be serious.

Cultural and Racial Conflicts in Medical School

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin. This can include discrimination based on limited English proficiency and actual or perceived “shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics.” Any school that receives federal funding must ensure that it provides services and benefits in a nondiscriminatory manner for:

  • Admissions
  • Financial aid
  • Recruiting
  • Counseling or guidance
  • Student services and treatment
  • Grading
  • Academic programs
  • Housing
  • Employment

Problems you might encounter because of your differing culture could include:

  • Unfair grading policies
  • Harsher penalties than other medical students for supposed infractions
  • Allowing or accepting discriminatory behavior against you from other students
  • Acceptance of hostile or discriminatory behavior against you from staff and administration

Title VI also protects you from retaliation from your medical school or professors because you challenged an unfair educational policy, filed a complaint, or testified in a Title VI complaint.

Cultural and Religious Conflicts in Medical School

Title VI also prohibits discrimination based on religion or because of membership in a religion that some may perceive to exhibit particular “shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics.” Religious-based cultural conflicts that you may encounter can include failing to understand or accept:

  • Religious holidays
  • Fasting or exhaustion and weakness from fasting
  • Religious headwear or clothing
  • Cultural differences over controversial issues like war, abortion, or ethnic cleansing

For example, a fasting student may find it more challenging to study or perform on a test. If the professor fails to accommodate this, it can lead to disciplinary issues. Or, if you need a day off from class to observe a religious holiday and your professor insists on giving you a zero for the day, it could lead to academic problems.

Other Cultural Conflicts in Medical School

Other conflicts in medical school can arise simply because your fellow students or professors don't share your cultural background. They can perceive vigorous debate as aggressive or legitimate questions as challenging authority or an attitude problem. Cultural conflicts can also arise around racial issues or differing gender roles.

Questioning Authority

Professor Erin Meyer discussed how authority and decision-making styles can vary widely across cultures on the Harvard Business Review podcast. She pointed out that in some countries, such as Scandinavia, Australia, and Israel, “children are really taught from a young age that the boss or the teacher or the parent is just a facilitator among equals. And in those cultures, we're taught that it's very appropriate to disagree with the boss or challenge the boss. And the boss is just there to facilitate the interaction.” In other countries, such as India, China, Japan, or Nigeria, children are taught to defer to the person in charge. When professors and students come from differing cultures in medical school, conflict can arise when students don't automatically defer to the professor or raise questions to facilitate a discussion. Conflicts can also arise when students working together or engaging in professional discussions in the classroom come from different cultural approaches to authority.

Lively Debates

In many cultures, even within the United States, people may be less likely to avoid conflict and debate, while others embrace it. For example, on The New Teacher Project blog, educator Veeko Lucas shared a story of when security marched two African American students into his office for “disrespecting staff” and “interrupting class.” The students were engaged in a lively, academically focused debate in the classroom. When the teacher quietly told them to stop, they continued believing that anyone who wished to end their debate would do so forcefully and loudly. This is a perfect example of how two people from different backgrounds or cultures can inadvertently clash in the classroom.

Differing Tones

Across the world, cultures vary in how they use unspoken language – the gestures, tone, and body language that often communicates what we don't say aloud. People from certain parts of the U.S. can be overly polite, even reticent, while others are more forceful, blunt, or just “tell it like it is.” The same can be true for cultures across the world. When moving to a new country or region, it can initially be challenging to decode this unspoken language. Tone can easily be a source of cultural conflict in medical school classes and practicums.

Differing Gender Roles

Differing gender roles in varying cultures may also lead to issues in medical school. For example, if you are from a culture where male physicians don't treat women, you may seem uncomfortable or hesitant about your role as a physician in U.S. culture. Mentors and advisors who aren't aware of this difference may misinterpret your reticence, questions, or objections and jump to conclusions. For some, their own cultural biases may also color their reactions to your explanations.

Possible Disciplinary Consequences in Medical School

Even if you feel the disciplinary matter you faced in medical school is trivial, it can have lasting consequences on your career. You could find it difficult to get a match for internships and residency, obtain fellowships, or later find a job. Depending on the type of disciplinary matter, you could also face challenges with medical licensing in many states.

To work as a licensed doctor in many states, you must disclose any disciplinary actions against you as a medical student, intern, or resident. Even if it stemmed from a cultural misunderstanding, any serious violation on your record could prevent you from practicing in some states. That's why it's essential to have an experienced medical school attorney-advisor by your side if you're facing disciplinary action. Often medical students mistakenly think they can handle school disciplinary issues on their own, especially if they believe simply explaining cultural differences can make them go away. Don't let a misunderstanding or possible discrimination keep you from the education and career you've worked years to obtain.

You Need an Experienced Attorney-Advisor

If you're facing disciplinary issues or possible dismissal from medical school due to cultural differences, you need a skilled attorney-advisor. An attorney well-versed in medical school disciplinary issues can protect your rights during school disciplinary hearings and, if necessary, in court. Don't let a misunderstanding or discrimination derail your medical career.

Attorney Joseph Lento and his team at the Lento Law Firm have represented hundreds of students across the country, and they can help you too. Call the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 or contact them online to schedule your consultation.

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If you, or your student, are facing any kind of disciplinary action, or other negative academic sanction, and are having feelings of uncertainty and anxiety for what the future may hold, contact the Lento Law Firm today, and let us help secure your academic career.

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