The oldest medical school in the Deep South and one of the oldest in the nation, the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC), traces its roots back to 1823. Since those humble beginnings, MUSC has expanded into a major public university focused on healthcare and health-related research. Encompassing a medical center and six colleges, MUSC has a combined enrollment of 3000 students and 800 residents annually.
In keeping with the public expectations of the medical profession, medical students are held to exceptionally high standards of academics, professionalism, and ethics. Academic performance can have a significant bearing on future opportunities, and disciplinary actions can profoundly impact a student's ability to work in the medical field. In situations where a student faces discipline for alleged misconduct, a skilled attorney advisor can help the student clear their good name and protect future career prospects.
Honor Code and Student Conduct
The academic and professional expectations for medical students at MUSC, as well as prescribed disciplinary procedures, are spelled out in detail in the school's expansive Honor Code. Every student is bound by the Honor Code and is required to sign a pledge to abide by it upon enrolling.
“Students enter MUSC to become part of a noble profession,” it says in the Honor Code's Preamble. “An important part of that development is a commitment to the integrity and ethical standards of that profession. The central purpose of the Honor Code is to sustain and protect an environment of mutual respect and trust in which students can enjoy the freedom to develop their intellectual and personal potential.”
The Honor Code is upheld and enforced by an Honor Council comprised of student and faculty representatives. Violations of the Honor Code are reviewed by the Honor Council, which may hold disciplinary hearings to determine the validity of the alleged violations and recommend solutions. Confirmed violations are met with a set of prescribed sanctions ranging from a formal reprimand and repeating courses to suspension or expulsion.
Medical school requires a high level of dedication, to say the least. Between stringent minimum grade requirements and high loads of course work, it can be challenging even for the most committed students to maintain the required grade levels. As a means of helping students “right the ship” academically, MUSC has a remediation structure in place, which entails putting the student on academic or professional probation and prescribing an individualized remediation plan to help the student master the material.
Remediation is not always the best course of action, especially considering the extra time and money it entails, and sometimes students can avert remediation through a successful appeal of grades. That said, considering that poor academic performance may result in dismissal, remediation may also be an important tool to rescue a student's floundering career prospects.
Repeated academic shortfalls or significant/repeated violations of the Honor Code may result in permanent expulsion from MUSC. This outcome should be avoided by any means possible, as it can severely jeopardize a medical student's career prospects. In addition to the humiliation of expulsion and the disruption of the student's studies, it can lead to lingering problems by compounding the following complications:
- The student will have trouble re-enrolling. An expelled medical student who wishes to keep pursuing a medical career will have difficulty doing so. Medical schools have stringent acceptance standards, and students with an expulsion on their records aren't generally given priority.
- The student must start from the beginning. Provided the student gets over the first hurdle of re-enrollment, an expulsion effectively erases any previous academic progress toward a medical degree. This means the student will repeat months or years of course work at additional time and expense.
- The student may face insurmountable student debt. If the student took out student loans for medical school, those loans must still be repaid in the event of an expulsion—without the help of a physician's salary.
MUSC has implemented an appeals process by which students may potentially reverse the decision for disciplinary action. Within seven days of the Honor Council's ruling, the student must file a written appeal to the President of the Honor Council, who will then appoint an Appeal Panel to review the case before the decision becomes final. Students may appeal on the following grounds:
- A procedural error which likely affected the outcome;
- Evidence of bias during the proceedings;
- To introduce new information or evidence material to the issue which was not readily available during the hearing;
- The sanction is disproportionate to the offense; or
- No reasonable person would conclude a violation occurred based on the evidence presented.
Appeals can be made to reverse any disciplinary sanction. Still, in cases where the sanction is expulsion, the appeals process may represent the last opportunity to save the medical student's career.
Attorney Advisor for Disciplinary Proceedings
Medical schools have a public trust to live up to, and medical students face stringent standards of professionalism and academic performance. This compounded pressure sometimes results in overreach, causing students to be unfairly accused of underperformance and/or misconduct, denied due process or disciplined disproportionately. Unfortunately, this can cause much more damage than simply to tarnish the student's reputation—it can ultimately derail their career. Hiring an attorney advisor for student disciplinary proceedings can make a significant difference by helping the student ensure their rights are protected during the process, and in many cases, may prevent catastrophic results to the student's prospects.
Joseph D. Lento has extensive experience with all school-related concerns including academic issues and student disciplinary proceedings. Contact the office of the Lento Law Firm at (888) 535-3686 to learn more.