It takes many years of study, clinical training, and passing certification exams to become a practicing Physician Assistant. Students in PA programs aim to finish their studies in a timely manner so they can begin their careers as fully licensed PAs. However, finishing a PA program on time depends on a student's overall performance.
In addition to course work, physician assistants in training must show mastery of clinical knowledge and adhere to standards of conduct for health care professionals. To prepare students for patient care, PA programs often have strict standards of both academic and professional conduct. Students who violate these standards can expect to face harsh penalties, including academic probation, suspension, remediation, or even dismissal. Such actions can be detrimental to a future PA student's career.
Fortunately, many PA programs allow students to contest or appeal decisions related to academics or professional conduct.
Reasons for Appealing a School's Action: Academic, Disciplinary, or Other
Why might you want to appeal an academic, disciplinary, or other decision by your PA program? Perhaps you received a failing grade in a class and may have to retake it to earn the credit your need. You may be facing dismissal as a result of a poor professional conduct evaluation and want the chance to appeal it before you're kicked out of your program. Your school's PA student handbook or code of conduct will mention which program decisions are eligible for appeal.
Accredited PA programs must conform to the Accreditation Standards for Physician Assistant Education from the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, Inc. (ARC-PA). These standards dictate that PA programs make policies concerning student grievances and appeals available to PA students when they start the program.
When you appeal a decision in a PA program, you must have legitimate grounds to do so. According to the Program Appeal Policy at Wichita State University's PA program, the administration will only consider an appeal if it meets one of the following criteria:
- The grade or action in question was not in accordance with published policies
- The grade or action in question was arbitrary or capricious
- The grade or action was determined on the basis of race, religion, color, national origin, disability, gender, age, sexual orientation, marital status, status as a veteran, or disability
The most common grounds for appeal of disciplinary action in a PA program are excessive sanctions, procedural error and/or improper conduct, or new evidence. Other grounds for an appeal can include extenuating circumstances or discrimination—similar to Wichita State's policies stated above.
PA programs can impose sanctions on students who have not adhered to academic or professional conduct standards. Sanctions differ by program, but may include academic or disciplinary probation, remediation, suspension, or expulsion. Often, PA students may want to appeal the imposed sanction, rather than the decision itself, because the sanction is excessive or inappropriate for the violation committed. If a PA program wants to expel a student for being late to class, for example, it may be considered an excessive sanction and give the PA student reasonable grounds for an appeal.
Procedural Error and/or Improper conduct
You can appeal on the grounds of improper conduct when you believe your PA program hasn't followed its own rules or staff members have made a mistake. Examples would be a professor grading an exam incorrectly or a preceptor not using the program's evaluation rubric to score a PA student's professionalism in their clinical rotation. A school's failure to follow stated process and procedure can lead to an adverse outcome for a student and may need to be responded to accordingly through an appeal.
Although it is not common for new evidence to come to light after the disciplinary process has ended and the sanction been imposed, there are some instances where new evidence would be at issue. If this evidence would have made a difference in the hearing or disciplinary meeting, but there was no way it was available to any of the parties at the time of the hearing, then it can be grounds for requesting an appeal as well. The PA program's administration will then review the case considering this new evidence, which could potentially lead to an entirely new hearing.
Some PA programs allow students to appeal academic decisions if unpredictable events or circumstances have impeded their academic progress. Examples would a diagnosis of a debilitating condition that prevents you from keeping up with your studies, a financial hardship that prevents you from paying tuition, or an unexpected death in the family that takes up all your time and attention.
Educational institutions are not allowed to make discriminatory decisions regarding academics or disciplinary procedures. A clear violation of this regulation would a PA program not accommodating a student with disabilities, and the student's experiencing negative evaluations in course work and professional settings as a result.
If you're a PA student facing an academic decision from your program, such as probation, suspension, or dismissal, you may have appeal options. An experienced student defense attorney-advisor can guide you through your school's appeal process.
The Appeal Process for PA Students
Each PA program has a set of guidelines and policies regarding appeals. Typically, there are separate sets of policies for appealing a grade and appealing an adverse decision. Some programs allow students to approach their instructors about negative grades first, before submitting a formal appeal. You may be able to resolve the issue with your instructor without having to go through your school's formal processes.
For more serious adverse decisions, however, PA students may have to lodge a formal appeal with either the Dean of the School of Medicine or Director of the PA program. For example, the University of New Mexico (UNM) School of Medicine has an appeal policy for adverse decisions that applies to all of the schools' Health Professions. PA students at UNM must submit a formal appeal, in writing, to the Health Professions Program's Assistant Dean within 15 days of receiving the decision. A Review Committee looks into the appeal by interviewing the student, director, and faculty from the PA program, then comes to a decision. Students who disagree with the Committee's decision can appeal further to the Dean of the School of Medicine, with another formal submission no more than 30 days after the Committee's decision.
UNM allows students to appeal general adverse decisions, but some PA programs, such as the one at the City University of New York (CUNY) Medical School, only have an appeal policy for academic dismissal. Students who want to appeal their dismissal from the program must notify the Dean of the CUNY School of Medicine with 10 business days of receiving notification. An Ad Hoc Appeals Committee will review the appeal and students have the right to present at the Committee meeting.
Nationwide Physician Assistant Student Rights Attorney
The appeals process in PA programs may not involve a formal hearing and may not allow students to have legal counsel with them when they meet with program administrators. However, students wanting to appeal their program's adverse decisions should still consult with a legal advisor. A qualified student defense attorney-advisor can help PA students prepare any oral or written statements, and review the school's relevant guidelines and policies.
Joseph D. Lento of Lento Law Firm has helped hundreds of graduate students nationwide with academic issues and disciplinary matters with their educational institutions. If you don't want an adverse decision such as academic probation, a failing grade, or academic dismissal to derail your career as a PA, contact the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686.