Medical School Academic Progress Committees

The amount of time and money that students, and often times their parents, invest into their collegiate and post-graduate education is massive. Fortunately, there is generally a correlation between how much tuition you pay and how much income you'll be able to generate later on. Medical school, for example, costs over $200,000 on average. That said, the average annual salary for an established doctor is $300,000. So long as all goes according to plan, a medical student will graduate, successfully complete a residency program, and go on to establish a healthy medical practice.

Unfortunately, that's not always the case. Everyone experiences roadblocks in life, and a medical student, or any other type of student for that matter, is no exception. In the case of higher learning, however, hiccups and distractions can affect your grades. Medical students must meet certain benchmarks every year if they want to continue with their education. Those tasked with a review of a student's academic progression comprise the academic progress committee. The committee will routinely review student standing throughout the year, and when circumstances trigger closer scrutiny, the committee will vote on whether the student needs to be dismissed from the program altogether.

At the end of the day, academic progress committees can determine whether or not you are fit to graduate. Even when they don't dismiss you from your program, they can include comments in your permanent file that could affect your competitive edge when applying for residency programs. A review by an academic progress committee may be touted as routine, but ultimately, the reviews can be devastatingly life-altering.

What is a Medical School Academic Progress Committee?

Each school will have its own form of a progress committee, but for the most part, they all have the same goal. Academic progress committees aim to ensure that a student is moving their program sufficiently.

Upstate Medical University provides:

“The responsibility of Student Progress Committees and the Academic Review Board is to evaluate student academic progress and make decisions about promotion to the next year, to ensure that academic standards are maintained in the College of Medicine.”

Notably, the reviewing bodies do not create the policy; their role is instead to assess whether a student is meeting the academic standards mandated by the policy.

The structure of academic progress committees may vary slightly from school to school. For example, some schools will have an academic review board that operates within the student progress committee. Academic performance is only one metric by which students will be assessed annually. However the review process looks at your school, these committees are empowered with the ability to vote on student dismissal.

An academic progress committee will meet throughout the academic year for the purpose of determining whether or not a student is performing pursuant to the standards. If a student's poor academic progress meets certain criteria, the committee could vote to dismiss the student entirely.

When a student in a post-graduate program is dismissed from their school, their future ability to pay back student loans or recoup the costs of the tuition they've spent over the last several years is completely railroaded. Medical students are unlikely to find employment that would offer the type of income potential they'd experience if they graduated and eventually went on to build their practice.

The consequences of a poor review by the academic progress committee are, in short, devastating. If you or your loved one is facing dismissal by the academic progress committee, you need to seek legal assistance right away. An experienced academic progress committee defense attorney will help you navigate the appeals process and can even help you assert claims that demonstrate the school's oversights that resulted in your academic performance.

Medical School Academic Progress Committee Members

Depending on the school, there are generally several individuals who comprise the academic progress committee. Some of them will be voting members, and many of them will be non-voting members. For example, Upstate Medical University’s Academic Review Board looks like this:

  • “Associate Dean of Undergraduate Medical Education, Chair (non-voting)
  • Dean of Student Affairs, Executive Secretary (non-voting)
  • Associate Dean of Student Affairs (non-voting); Representing Multicultural Affairs; Academic Support Services; and Disability Services
  • Assistant Dean for Diversity (non-voting)
  • University Registrar (non-voting)
  • Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, Binghamton Campus (non-voting)
  • Assistant Dean for Foundational Science and/or Clinical Science (non-voting)
  • Guests (non-voting), as determined by the Chair and Executive Secretary”

In addition to the non-voting members, the Dean appoints 12 voting members. These members are faculty members who are chosen in consultation with the Medical College Assembly Executive Committee. The faculty members serve three-year terms and cannot serve more than two consecutive terms. The school states it makes an effort “to ensure a balance between clinical faculty and basic science faculty and include appropriate representation….”

While schools try to make an effort to include members who would be able to bring context to academic issues surrounding diversity or accessibility, not every issue of discrimination is always adequately addressed during the review process. Sometimes students need to bring in their own advocate to ensure their concerns are heard.

Conflicts of Interest

There are times when a student isn't afforded a fair review by the Academic Progress Committee because a member of the committee knows the student personally or has some other conflict of interest with the student. One might assume that this could work out in the student's favor, but oftentimes the opposite is true. Just because a committee member knows your family, that doesn't mean that they are a friend of your family.

If you worry that a committee member may be compromised due to a conflict of interest, then you need to raise these concerns to the Committee Chair and your lawyer.

Confidentiality

The information reviewed by the academic progress committee should always remain confidential and limited to only those who need the information to make an informed decision on a student's standing. If you feel that your confidentiality rights have been violated by the academic progress committee members at your school, please seek experienced legal guidance to help you protect your rights.

When students go through the trauma of poor academic reviews, there are often contributing circumstances. Sometimes these circumstances are sensitive, like substance abuse disorders. Even when a student successfully completes treatment for alcohol or drug abuse, their reputations can be forever tarnished if the details get into the wrong hands. This is only one example, but it demonstrates the paramount importance of confidentiality during the academic progress review process.

What Constitutes Medical Student Academic Misconduct?

The academic progress committee may review several types of conduct that could jeopardize a student's standing within the university program. Of course, poor academic performance is one of those metrics. Students that fail a course or internship will face tough standards when their progress is reviewed.

In addition to poor academic performance, there is academic misconduct. Academic misconduct includes:

  • Cheating
  • Plagiarizing
  • Blackmail
  • Forgery
  • Bribery
  • Impersonation
  • Unauthorized collaborating
  • Hacking

Cheating and plagiarism are the most common acts of academic misconduct. While these two types of misdeeds may seem black and white, there are often circumstances surrounding these acts which muddy the water and could act as mitigating circumstances.

Cheating

Cheating allegations happen at every level of academia. Medical students are not exempt, as is demonstrated by the cheating scandal that rocked the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College. The “scandal” resulted from ambiguity related to online exam-taking processes, and ultimately, the dean dropped the sanctions against the seventeen students and even issued an apology.

Although this incident ended well for the students, the ordeal does demonstrate how quickly a misunderstanding can threaten a student's entire future. Processes are always changing within schools, and with the Covid-19 pandemic, schools and students alike have struggled with implementing online learning. Students and instructors make plenty of mistakes, but without adequate representation, students are more likely to get the raw end of the deal.

Plagiarism

Merriam-Webster defines plagiarism as follows: “to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one's own: use (another's production) without crediting the source.”

In the last decade, plagiarism has become a more significant concern among college educators. With the accessibility of the internet comes plenty of opportunities for students to “borrow” words, thoughts, and ideas from others in the hopes that their instructors won't notice.

Most of us think we understand plagiarism, but it's important for students to understand that plagiarism isn't always a glaring misdeed. A student, even a highly intelligent and driven medical student or law student, is susceptible to unintentional plagiarism. Plagiarism.org describes all of the following as examples of plagiarism:

  • “turning in someone else's work as your own
  • copying words or ideas from someone else without giving credit
  • failing to put a quotation in quotation marks
  • giving incorrect information about the source of a quotation
  • changing words but copying the sentence structure of a source without giving credit
  • copying so many words or ideas from a source that it makes up the majority of your work, whether you give credit or not (see our section on “fair use” rules)”

As you move down the list, you notice that the inappropriate act becomes less overt, and it doesn't take a huge stretch of the imagination to see that a student could accidentally plagiarize another's work without realizing they've done so. Still, plagiarism is an egregious act of academic misconduct, and if a student is accused of it, the incident will be reviewed by the academic progress committee.

Grounds for Dismissal Due to Poor Medical Student Academic Progress

Dismissal reviews can be triggered under certain circumstances. For example, medical students attending the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA will face dismissal consideration if they experience any of the following situations:

  • “Four course or clerkship failures in one academic year
  • Failure to meet terms of remediation for a failed course or clerkship
  • Failure to meet United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE) policy
  • Violation of the DGSOM UCLA Honor Code or UCLA Student Conduct Code, and/or unprofessional conduct deemed severe and egregious in nature as deemed by CASPP
  • Failure to successfully complete the M.D. program within the 6-year time-to-degree requirement”

Even under these triggering scenarios, a student should still be afforded the opportunity to present mitigating circumstances to the academic progress committee.

The Medical School Academic Progress Committee Voting Process

When an issue is brought before the academic progress committee or the academic review board, it cannot be voted on unless a quorum is present. For example, at Upstate Medical University, at least nine members must be present before voting can occur. Further, a decision for dismissal requires two-thirds of the vote at this school, while a decision for some issue other than dismissal requires only a simple majority.

Notably, the majority number needed to vote for a dismissal may vary from school to school. It's always important that students and parents of students review and understand the academic progress committee voting requirements for the individual school you attend.

When dismissal is at issue, the committee must follow certain procedures that will generally follow the following structure:

  • Students qualifying for dismissal are notified by the Dean of Student Affairs before the committee meets to vote.
  • Students are allowed the opportunity to submit a written response intended to explain what events have led to their poor academic performance. They should present mitigating factors in this response. The response is time-sensitive and must be submitted pursuant to the committee's policies.
  • Students under review should be available to attend the meeting. The committee may wish to speak to them during the process.
  • If a student is dismissed from the school, the committee will provide to the student a detailed written summary of their findings and rationale behind the dismissal.

If the committee votes to dismiss you from your program, it may feel like all is lost. While this news is devastating, it's not the end of the road, and you should appeal the decision to dismiss you. If you have not already hired a student defense attorney to represent you in your dismissal case, now is the time to go ahead and do that. So much is at stake when you're on the cusp of losing your entire undergraduate and post-graduate career, not to mention future job opportunities—you need to bring in a professional advocate.

Appeals Process After a Decision for Dismissal of Medical Students

If the academic progress committee votes for your dismissal, you still have the opportunity to appeal the decisions. The appeals process happens quickly, and you need to be prepared to submit your written request for an appeal shortly after the decision, depending on your school's appeal process rules. Many schools allow for at least a few weeks of time before your appeal request is due, but others have a much quicker turnaround. It's important that you discuss this timeline with an attorney to make sure you don't miss the deadline and lose out on the opportunity to appeal.

The clock starts clicking on your time to appeal the decision as soon as you have notice of the committee's vote to dismiss you. Notice can mean verbal, written, or email—so it's critical that you are prepared to appeal the decision before it's even-handed down.

When you submit your request to appeal, you should evidence any or all of the following:

  • New evidence has come to light that was not reasonably available at the time of the hearing, which may offer mitigating circumstances to your academic performance.
  • A Procedural error influenced the outcome of the committee's decision.
  • Academic policy was misinterpreted to the extent that it affected the outcome of the committee hearing and led to your dismissal.

You need to assert any and every defense that you have when you submit your request to appeal the academic progress committee's decision to dismiss you. This is because the request to appeal doesn't guarantee that an appeal will be granted. Your school's Dean, along with other authoritative department heads, will review your request to appeal and make a decision. If they do grant your request, the Appeals Committee is likely to take on the matter expeditiously. You need to be prepared to make your case, and again, this is most effectively done when you have the support of a student defense attorney who is experienced in appealing academic progress committee dismissal decisions.

What is Remediation?

When a student fails to meet academic competency requirements for a course in medical school, they will be notified and, most often, asked to remediate the class or clerkship. Often, this means developing a remediation plan with the course director to determine what influences may have contributed to the unsatisfactory performance.

Frequently, there's more to the problem than meets the eye, and it isn't a simple lack of aptitude that created the issues. Disconcerting issues that give rise to poor academic standing can include:

  • Undiagnosed medical conditions
  • A school's failure to make learning ADA compliant
  • Discriminatory practices by faculty
  • Unclear academic policy metrics

When offered remediation, a student often has little alternative. The choice is to remediate or be dismissed from the program. That said, remediation isn't necessarily attributable to your Dean's altruistic nature.

Problems with Medical School Remediation

Often, a student will be assigned remediation requirements in lieu of dismissal. If and when remediation is successfully completed, the student will return to a status of good standing within their program. While in remediation, a student may be assigned a status that indicates they are experiencing academic difficulty. This designation can be informal and won't remain a part of their permanent record so long as they complete the proscribed remediation.

Failure to meet the terms of remediation will be grounds for dismissal. Unfortunately, remediation doesn't always get to the root of the problem a student is facing. Sure, it may act as a sort of “second chance,” but it can also act as a band-aid that ignores a more significant issue.

Another problem is that the issue of remediation can disguise whether the medical school is truly interested in affording a student the opportunity to correct their behavior or if the school is more concerned with being able to defend an ultimate decision to dismiss a student from the program. Sometimes, medical schools offer remediation even when they've already made up their mind. This is a cruel and unfair practice that no hardworking student deserves. Not only does this result in a false sense of security, but it also encourages a student to invest their time and money into coursework.

Nationwide Defense for Medical Students Facing Academic Progress Committees

Academic Progress Committee Reviews are an unavoidable part of a medical student's educational experience. These committees are tasked with ensuring that students move forward through their education while passing the minimum standards required by all students. Many students will pass through medical school in good standing, but for those who hit a snag along the way, the complications that come with an unfavorable review can snowball quickly.

It's difficult to navigate the scrutiny of a dismissal review and the possibility of remediation or even dismissal. To go about this process alone can be a terrifying ordeal that may ultimately result in countless hours and tuition wasted. Attorney Joseph D. Lento understands the turmoil students go through during this tumultuous ordeal. Attorney Lento and his experienced team have helped medical students throughout the nation fight for their rights in front of Academic Progress Committees.

Many students make the mistake of believing their school has their back and is invested in their well-being. Sometimes this is true, but all too often, this isn't the case, and a medical school is always more interested not only in protecting itself from liability but also in maintaining competitive rankings.

Schools won't hesitate to throw all of their weight behind their decisions, and so you shouldn't hesitate to bring your own heavy-hitting advocate. If you or your loved one is facing scrutiny in front of the Academic Progress Committee, call the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686 to see how attorney Joseph D. Lento and his team can fight for you.

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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 our offices today, and let us help secure your academic career.

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