Nursing Student Issues

To become a nurse, students work hard for four or more years, undergo rigorous clinical training, and face difficult licensing exams before beginning to work with patients. For graduate school, or to become a nurse practitioner, nurses face more school and specialized licensing and practice. After investing so much time and money into professional education, it can be frustrating to face disciplinary measures while in school.

An adverse disciplinary finding in school can derail a nurse's education and professional career. Whether you or your child is facing a charge of academic misconduct, a Title IX investigation, disciplinary issues, or any misconduct charge while in college, nursing school, or a graduate school program, you should consult an experienced attorney-adviser as soon as possible.

Student Disciplinary Issues for Nursing Students and Other Fundamental Concerns

Aspiring nurses can face several issues during their academic careers, including everything from Title IX sexual harassment claims, professional concerns, academic issues, and other misconduct. Some of the most severe concerns faced by nursing students include:

While nursing schools and colleges across the country may handle many of these issues in similar ways, each school will have specific procedures and policies. Knowing the student's school's process is key to defending a misconduct allegation and protecting their rights.

Academic Misconduct

Most schools take academic misconduct allegations seriously. An academic misconduct finding can result in suspension, expulsion, or revocation of a degree. No nursing student wants an academic misconduct charge on their record if they can avoid it. Such a finding can affect a student's ability to become a licensed nurse or continue their studies in graduate school or other specialized programs. Types of academic misconduct include:

  • Plagiarism such as copying words or ideas of another without giving credit
  • Failing to use quotation marks and citations
  • Cheating
  • Collaborating with others without permission
  • Resubmitting or reusing an assignment or paper without permission
  • Fabricating data, research, or results
  • Impersonating another student or allowing them to impersonate you to take a test or complete an assignment
  • Sabotaging other students, including hiding, destroying, or mislabeling school resources needed by other students
  • Bribery or blackmail

Unfortunately, academic misconduct is common in school, from primary to school through professional degrees. As a result, some schools and professors may be quick to assume the worst in any questionable academic situation.

Sometimes cheating or plagiarism happens because a student is dealing with family issues, a personal illness or hardship, and feels they don't have the support necessary to complete work independently. At times, a jealous former love interest or friend may falsely accuse a nursing student of academic misconduct. A jealous student could copy one student's work and then claim the student stole it from them. A student may panic or lack confidence in their abilities. Still other students may face personal problems, a disability, or an illness. Finally, some students don't understand what encompasses plagiarism.

Accidental plagiarism can also result in an academic misconduct charge. It can happen quite easily if a student doesn't fully understand what plagiarism is:

  • If a student doesn't delineate between their thoughts and others' research while taking notes or doing their initial research.
  • If a student doesn't include a citation for the paraphrased words or ideas of another.
  • If a student isn't careful while adapting quotations, changing the meaning of a quote.
  • If a student cuts and pastes on a computer while doing research.

In many cases, a school may offer students a more lenient punishment in exchange for your admission of guilt. Many schools will allow students to consult with an attorney or advisor or even have an advisor present during a disciplinary hearing or meeting. To understand all of the options, you should first consult an attorney well-versed in student disciplinary matters,

Academic Misconduct Hearings 

Academic misconduct hearings vary widely by school. At many schools, the type of administrative hearing or panel may change depending on the severity of the academic misconduct charge, the penalties, or the student's prior history. An administrative hearing will generally involve a meeting between the student and one or more school officials. School officials will review the allegations, any evidence of misconduct, and meet with any other students or staff involved in the allegations. At that point, the student will typically have a chance to respond or tell their side. Then the school officials will determine whether the student should be subject to discipline for academic misconduct.

Disciplinary Charges for Nursing Students

Student nurses can face a variety of disciplinary or Title IX charges through their university or college, but they can also face criminal charges. Aspiring nurses can face a variety of disciplinary charges depending on the circumstances, but common charges include:

  • Social media violations
  • Internet threats
  • Computer crimes and cyber crimes
  • Cyberstalking
  • Theft
  • Drugs on campus and other drug crimes
  • Alcohol on campus
  • Software piracy
  • Destruction of property
  • Threats
  • Assault
  • Breaking and entering
  • Rape

Title IX Charges

Nursing students can also be subject to Title IX allegations. Title IX is a federal civil rights law passed as part of the Education Amendments of 1972 ("Title IX"), 20 U.S.C. §1681 et seq. The law prohibits sex discrimination for federally funded schools in things like admissions, athletics, and employment. While the statute is brief, the U.S. Department of Education also promulgates regulations that guide kindergarten through grade 12 schools and colleges and universities that accept federal funding. Title IX also covers claims such as: 

Title IX charges can include:

  • Sexual harassment
  • Gender discrimination
  • Derogatory or sexist remarks
  • Sexually suggestive jokes, catcalls, or innuendos
  • Physical and aggressive sexual advances
  • Stalking
  • Offensive touching
  • Pornography
  • Revenge porn
  • Dating violence or intimate partner violence
  • Domestic violence
  • Bullying behavior
  • Gender-based bullying
  • Sexual assault, battery, or coercion
  • Non-consensual sex
  • Rape

Until recently, if schools knew, or reasonably should have known about an incident falling under Title IX, they were required to investigate and remediate the situation. Recent changes to Title IX's regulations give colleges a bit more leeway, most importantly by narrowing the definition of sexual harassment. The definition now includes "any unwelcome conduct that a reasonable person would find so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive that it denies a person equal educational access." Reports of sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, and stalking do not need to meet the description of "severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive." 

Criminal Charges

Nursing students may also find that criminal charges, whether related to or separate from a school disciplinary case, can affect their academic and professional careers, even if the incident happened off-campus. Criminal charges that nursing students often face include:

  • Drunk driving
  • Driving under the influence of drugs
  • Assault
  • Rape
  • Domestic violence
  • Prescription fraud
  • Drug possession
  • Theft
  • Trespassing
  • Weapons offenses 

While a criminal court uses the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard for conviction, most colleges do not. A nursing school or college can apply its standard of proof to behavior allegations. If a nursing student is found not guilty in a court of law, they could still face disciplinary proceedings and punishment from the school. If a court convicts a nursing student of a crime, unless it is a minor misdemeanor, it is highly likely that the student can also face discipline at school.

When nurses apply for licensing, their state licensing board will conduct a criminal background check. A state board of nursing may deny an aspiring nurse with a criminal background a license as a result. If you or your child face possible criminal charges, you must speak with a criminal attorney experienced in student discipline matters. Many attorneys may not realize the long-term professional consequences of a guilty verdict for nurses. 

Nursing Student Academic Issues 

Academic issues may impact the medical student's academic progress. Medical students may be able to appeal an academic issue to address unfairness, unequal treatment, or other problems. Common issues for academic appeals include: 

While academic issues are unfortunate, they do happen. Any school should want to get to the root of academic issues, rather than simply moving straight to academic probation or suspension. If a nursing student is facing family or personal problems, the school should work with the student. If a nursing student is ill or disabled, the school may be legally obligated to make accommodations.

On occasion, a nursing student may face a professor or school that applies academic standards unfairly or inconsistently. In some cases, mistakes happen. In others, students face arbitrary or deliberately inaccurate grades. Each class should have established academic requirements that are applied fairly to each student. When that doesn't happen, a student may need to appeal a grade.

Academic Appeals Process 

Each school has its specific academic standards and appeals processes, but most establish a time limit for challenging exams or final grades. Students will typically file an appeal with their dean and professor, along with substantive evidence or documentation of the appeal's grounds. Be sure to check your school's student academic guidelines for college-specific rules.

Professionalism Concerns

Nursing students, like licensed nurses, are held to high standards of conduct and professionalism. The American Nursing Association develops the Nursing Scope and Standards of Practice that include the standards of professionalism for all nurses. The profession's standards require all nurses to act ethically, communicate effectively, and practice in a manner "that is congruent with cultural divergence and inclusion principles."

While engaged in coursework or clinical rotations, if a professor or supervisor has concerns about a nursing student's professionalism, they may discuss it directly with the student or report it. If a professionalism issue comes up, the school should discuss it with the student and work to remediate any problems. Because every nurse will face stringent standards once out of school, school and clinical training are the best time to address any concerns.

Nursing Student Remediation

Nursing school is never easy and with reason. We hold nurses to high standards, both academic and professional, because we trust them with our lives and health. While many nursing students were academic performers in high school or lower-level nursing courses, adjusting to a graduate-level or demanding undergraduate level nursing school can be challenging. Many aspiring nurses face an adjustment period and may falter at some point.

Nursing programs understand the challenges that their students face, and many have programs to assist students before the school must get involved. Remediation can include many things, including:

  • Retaking a course
  • Retaking a curriculum level assessment
  • Retaking a semester
  • Retaking an entire year

If you are facing academic remediation in a nursing program, you should consult an experienced attorney as soon as possible.

Concerns with Nursing School Remediation Programs

While schools that push nursing students into remediation are usually well-intentioned and designed to keep students in school and progressing along a forward academic path, it can result in additional time and sometimes great additional expense. However, if a nursing program proactively and promptly implements remediation that encompasses the whole student, it can be quite effective. Schools must implement academic, mental health, and communication resources to ensure student success.

In some cases, when nursing students face academic challenges, schools may not be aware of their obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (A.D.A.). Schools may not be providing the necessary accommodations needed for disabled students. Even one ADA oversight can seriously affect a nursing student's academic and professional career. If you believe you are entitled to accommodations you aren't receiving under the A.D.A., you should contact a student rights attorney.

Nursing Student Exams & Licensing

A professional nursing license aims to protect the public by setting minimum qualifications and competencies for safe entry-level practitioners. If a nurse is unprepared or incompetent, they pose a risk of harm to the public. As a result, nursing licensing exams are academically challenging to ensure that aspiring nurses meet high-quality standards.

Each state has its Board of Nursing responsible for evaluating licensure applications, issuing and renewing licenses, taking disciplinary actions, and authorizing licensing exams. A graduate of an approved nursing program completes an application, including a criminal background check, and an application fee. The aspiring nurse then applies to sit for the NCLEX-RN or NCLEX-PN licensing exam. According to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, the passage rate for the NCLEX is 88%. However, for repeat test-takers, the passage rate drops to 43%. Because every nursing program's goal is to produce competent nurses, nursing schools should work with students to ensure academic remediation long before an aspiring nurse sits for the NCLEX licensing exam. 

Nursing Student Dismissals

Every school will have its individual standards to determine when a nursing student faces dismissal. A nursing student should consult an experienced student rights attorney if a dismissal determination is because of academic, professionalism, or misconduct concerns. You can't assume that the school will consider your best interests. 

Many nursing students are high achievers, but many still face academic issues. Outside factors can also affect a student's performance in and out of the classroom and clinical rotations. Your school should consider these special situations:

  • Financial issues: Even with financial aid and scholarships, college, nursing school, and graduate school can be substantial financial burdens. Attempting to attend school and work can be a significant distraction. If you're facing issues because of finances, your nursing school should consider this.
  • Psychological or medical issues: A sudden illness or mental health crisis can send anyone reeling, let alone a student with a challenging academic load. Depression and anxiety can also be the by-products of a stressful academic environment.
  • Family crisis or unexpected death: Dealing with the sudden death of a loved one or other family crisis can necessarily take away from a nursing student's studies.
  • Learning disabilities: Many students with learning disabilities that were fine in high school or as an undergraduate can find that a more challenging college or graduate nursing program brings these challenges to the forefront. Nursing students with learning disabilities should be sure to let colleges and professors know about their disability and any needed accommodations.

Nursing Student Discipline Defense and Student Rights:

Helping Clients Nationwide

Whether academic or otherwise, allegations of misconduct can have a lasting impact on a nurse's academic and professional career. If you are an aspiring nurse facing misconduct charges, criminal charges, a Title IX investigation, or allegations of academic or other misconduct, you should consult an experienced student's rights attorney. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm have helped nursing students through expansive issues and concerns, in part including misconduct hearings, dismissal proceedings, and Title IX actions  at schools across the country. Contact the Lento Law Firm at (888) 535-3686 today for help.

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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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