As the second oldest medical school in California, the Keck School of Medicine of USC (KSOM) was founded in 1885 as the USC School of Medicine, the second professional school established at the University of California. It was renamed Keck School of Medicine after receiving a $110 million donation in 1999 from the W.M. Keck Foundation. Today, with an enrollment of 1200 students, the school is recognized as one of the nation's leading medical institutions, generating more than $230 million annually for research purposes.
The medical profession is one of public trust, which means medical students must live up to the highest levels of professional, ethical, and academic integrity. A pristine school record is key to student career opportunities. When school disciplinary actions tarnish that record, it can have a grave impact on that student's future prospects in medicine. Having an attorney advisor or advocate available during disciplinary reviews can make a significant difference toward restoring the student's good name, and possibly saving his/her career.
Code of Professional Behavior and Student Conduct Code
Keck School of Medicine expects its students to abide by a Code of Professional Behavior, which was established “in order that our activities reflect the high standards of moral character demanded by the medical profession.” The Code of Professional Behavior is centered on three key pillars:
- Honesty and Integrity
- Responsibility, Reliability, and Accountability
- Respect for Others
In addition, medical students are expected to abide by the terms of the USC Student Code of Conduct, which they receive upon enrollment.
Academic progress and integrity issues are overseen by the Student Performance Committee and the Associate Dean for Student Affairs. General conduct violations are handled by the Office of Student Judicial Affairs and Community Standards. Violations of either the Code of Professional Behavior or the Student Conduct Code may result in sanctions for the student, ranging from warnings and probation to suspension or dismissal. In some instances, the school may even revoke degrees already earned.
Medical school coursework is challenging, to say the least. There are times when even the most dedicated students struggle with academic performance and minimum grade standards. The Student Performance Committee monitors the academic progress of students and may step in with remedial solutions to help struggling students get back on track. This typically takes the form of placing the student on academic probation until a prescribed program of remediation is completed.
Remediation can be both time-consuming and costly for the student, and in certain cases, a student may be able to avoid remediation with a successful appeal for grade reviews. However, considering that students may be dismissed for academic shortfalls or misconduct, even without probation, there are times when remediation is the best option to keep the student's future career intact.
Whether being dismissed for academic failure/misconduct or expelled for behavioral and policy violations, dismissal from medical school can place the student's entire career in jeopardy. Expulsion from USC is defined as “permanent termination of student status,” and it is accompanied by a permanent notation on the student's academic record. Also, being dismissed or expelled can create the following compounding issues for the student moving forward:
- The student may not be able to re-enroll elsewhere. A student with a notation of dismissal on their student record will generally not be considered a high-priority candidate at another medical school.
- If the student can re-enroll, he/she will basically start over. Dismissal/expulsion results in an erasing of prior progress, so earned credits won't carry over.
- Possible compounded financial issues. Dismissal effectively means tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost tuition fees. If the student took out student loans to cover those costs believing they could be repaid from a physician's salary, those debts will still be valid.
Suffice it to say that for any student disciplinary proceeding, the medical student should seek to avoid dismissal at all costs, if at all possible.
Before sanctions become final, the student has the right to appeal the decision of the disciplinary body. Keck School of Medicine policy states that the student must submit an appeal in writing within ten business days of the determination. Appeals for academic dismissal from medical school are made to the Vice Dean for Medical Education. Appeals for general conduct sanctions are made to the Office of Student Judicial Affairs and Community Standards. Appeals are only considered on the following grounds:
- New evidence which could not reasonably have been discovered during the review;
- The sanction is excessive or inappropriate to the offense; or
- The review panel or officer failed to follow University regulations in handling the review.
Attorney Advisor for Medical Students
Just as medical students face ongoing pressure to maintain a stellar academic and professional record, so medical schools face public pressure to maintain high standards and an irreproachable reputation. Unfortunately, sometimes this pressure translates into a disciplinary action that is disproportionate to the allegations or a student being denied due process—and in some cases, it means innocent students have their careers jeopardized by an unfair smear on their record. Hiring an experienced attorney advisor for disciplinary proceedings can help ensure the student's rights are protected, and in many cases, can avert disaster regarding their future medical career.
Joseph Lento understands the workings of academic and professionalism issues and university disciplinary proceedings and can offer expert advice and assistance. Contact the office of the Lento Law Firm at (888) 535-3686 to learn more.