George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS) is the 11th oldest medical school in the country, tracing its roots back to 1824. Today, the school is one of the nation's most prestigious medical institutions, and the associated George Washington University Hospital regularly treats U.S. Presidents and members of Congress. Not surprisingly, the SMHS is also one of the most selective medical schools in the country, having an acceptance rate of only about 2 percent out of tens of thousands of applicants per year.
The practice of medicine is a public trust, and for that reason, medical students rely heavily on a pristine school record to open doors for career opportunities. When disciplinary proceedings or allegations of misconduct tarnish that record, it may have a devastating effect on the student's career prospects. Hiring an attorney-advisor in such circumstances can help ensure the student's due process rights are protected and can increase the chances for a favorable outcome.
Student Codes of Conduct
In keeping with the expectations of the medical profession, GW SMHS holds its students to the highest standards of professional, ethical, and academic excellence. To that end, the school has adopted its Regulations for M.D. Candidates. It expects students to uphold an Honor Code, General Principles of Professional Comportment, and a Code of Academic Integrity. Academics are taken especially seriously at SMHS. The Committee on Medical Student Evaluation (MSEC) monitors students' grades, and the Office of Academic Integrity and the Academic Integrity Council (AIC) investigates allegations of academic dishonesty.
These boards may call for a Hearing Panel to investigate and make determinations on misconduct, especially for more serious allegations. If the charges are upheld, the student may face sanctions ranging from failure of the course to suspension or expulsion.
The academic requirements in medical school can be so exacting and demanding that sometimes even the most dedicated students struggle to keep their grades at the minimum levels or fail to keep pace with the course work. To that end, the GW School of Medicine provides remediation options to help students get their academic record back on track. The MSEC administers such remedial programs and even includes a grade notation of “Conditional” (“CN” versus “F”) to note substandard academic performance that may be corrected by remediation.
Remedial course work costs the student extra time and money to complete, and in some cases, remediation can be averted through a successful grade appeal. However, in situations where the student might face dismissal; otherwise, remediation might actually save a student's career.
Academic Dismissal and Expulsion
At GW SMHS, the dismissal and expulsion both refer to removal from the school. The term dismissal generally refers to when a student's academic performance consistently falls below standards. Expulsion typically refers to disciplinary action taken for academic dishonesty or student misconduct.
Regardless of the term, the medical student should seek to avoid dismissal/expulsion at all costs, as it can have a severe impact on the student's future in medicine. The expulsion results in a negative notation of “academic dishonesty,” which remains on the student's academic for a minimum of three years, and afterward may only be removed upon appeal and at the discretion of the Provost and Executive Vice President. In some cases, the petition is denied, and the note stays on the record permanently.
Expulsion from medical school can create a cascade of additional problems for the medical student, including the following:
- Difficulty re-enrolling. Most medical schools have strict admissions standards, and students previously dismissed aren't usually considered high-priority candidates.
- Months or years of lost work and tuition. If the student manages to get re-enrolled in medical school, the previous transcripts won't carry over, meaning the student must start over at the beginning.
- Cumbersome student debt. Taking out expensive student loans for medical school may seem doable at the time because the student expects to repay the loan from a physician's salary. Expulsion calls that future salary into question, but it does not eliminate the debt.
When disciplinary sanctions are handed down, especially in the case of expulsion, the student has the right to appeal the decision before it becomes final. In most cases, the appeals process is the last line of defense and the last opportunity to save the student's career. At GW School of Medicine, students must appeal to the Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs within five working days after the decision is made. Appeals will only be considered in cases where the student can present new evidence or make a legitimate claim of bias during the disciplinary procedure.
Hiring an Attorney-Advisor
Medical schools across the country are under constant public pressure, not only to maintain high academic standards but also to uphold an impeccable reputation. The challenge for medical students is that sometimes this pressure manifests in disproportionate disciplinary actions or the denial of due process. For students facing possible discipline, hiring an attorney advisor can be tremendously helpful in ensuring the student avails himself/herself of all available rights and protections—and in many cases may even save the student's career from derailing completely.
Joseph D. Lento has years of experience advising medical students facing academic and professionalism concerns and also those under the threat of disciplinary action. Contact the Lento Law Firm at (888) 535-3686 to learn more.