Psychiatric Adverse Events in Dental School

Psychiatric Conditions in the General Population

Mental health is an issue for everyone. Psychiatric conditions like bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, anxiety disorders, and schizophrenia plague the general population. These and other major psychiatric disorders can have genetic markers, indicating physiological roots and inherited predispositions. But latent hidden or well-managed psychiatric tendencies often need environmental stress for their full manifestation. A person with a tendency to any of these disorders may suffer no marked, life-altering symptoms until significant stress arises. And when stress appears, these disorders can get expressed in manic-depressive episodes, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, acute and chronic depression, sleeplessness, hyperactivity, delusions, hallucination, suicidal ideation, substance abuse, cutting, eating disorders, and panic attacks, requiring medication, counseling, and even hospitalization. Psychiatric disorders are not a pretty picture.

Psychiatric Conditions in Dental School

Dental students are not immune from psychiatric conditions and life-altering adverse events. On the one hand, dental students have already proven their mental discipline, capability, and soundness. Dental students are certainly a special population. But on the other hand, dental school can be enormously taxing, demanding, isolating, competitive, and stressful. Serious questions about the student's competence, commitment, ability, interest, and intelligence can flood and undermine the student's confidence, concentration, attention, and persistence. Shifting peer, instructor, mentor, and family relationships and financial, housing, transportation, and physical health demands, can add to the toxic mental health mix. A multi-center study across seven dental schools found that the negative educational environment contributed to psychiatric disorders in thirty-six percent of students, burnout syndrome in another twenty-two percent of students, and other stress-related symptoms in another thirty-four percent of students. Dental students suffer psychiatric conditions and adverse events. You are not alone if you are dealing with one or more active psychiatric disorders interfering with your dental education.

Dental Schools Must Accommodate Psychiatric Disabilities

Dental schools and dental students may mistakenly assume that a psychiatric disability is a disqualifying condition. Dental students must certainly meet the school's knowledge, skills, and professionalism standards, whether they manifest a psychiatric disorder or not. And psychiatric disabilities and adverse events can certainly interfere with a dental student's learning. But federal disability laws like Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 require dental schools receiving federal funding to reasonably accommodate student disabilities, not condemn the disabilities and discriminate against the suffering student. Psychiatric conditions can qualify for disability law protection. Dental schools must acknowledge and accommodate their students' psychiatric disabilities. The Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights publishes a fact sheet giving these examples of how schools must accommodate psychiatric disabilities:

  • A college student with bipolar disorder and anxiety is hospitalized for a suicide attempt. The college's academic dean may not apply the school's blanket policy requiring students hospitalized for mental illness to take an immediate medical leave. The school may only require a leave after first conducting an individualized assessment justifying the action.
  • A university student's severe fatigue, joint pain, and inability to concentrate, all from long COVID, has exacerbated the student's preexisting depressive disorder. The student requests permission to register for just three courses rather than the required five courses because her psychiatric condition hinders her ability to take a full course load. The university must conduct an individualized assessment before deciding on the request.
  • Prolonged isolation and the stress of a close relative dying have exacerbated a college student's depression, leading him to take a voluntary medical leave of absence. When the student seeks to return the next semester with a supporting letter from his therapist, the college may not apply its blanket policy that students on leave must be out for at least two semesters without first conducting an individualized assessment justifying the policy's application.

Dental Schools Discipline Arising from Psychiatric Events

Although the above three examples illustrate the obligations of a dental school to accommodate a student's psychiatric disability, the examples don't give the full picture of the challenges that psychiatric events can present for a dental student. Psychiatric events can do more than require leaves and reduced course loads. From an academic standpoint, psychiatric events can cause the dental student to receive poor grades, fail courses, withdraw from courses, leave courses incomplete, and fail to make overall satisfactory academic progress (SAP). Dental schools have SAP policies, like the one at the University of Louisville School of Dentistry, that they enforce with suspensions and expulsions. From a behavioral standpoint, psychiatric events can contribute to unexplained absences, substance abuse, interpersonal conflict, and even allegations of vandalism, trespass, property destruction, harassment, and sexual misconduct. Dental schools have student codes of conduct, like the one at the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry, that they enforce with suspensions and expulsions. And from a professionalism standpoint, psychiatric events can contribute to apparent patient neglect, errors in dental judgment, and strained relationships with clinical supervisors and professional colleagues. Dental schools have professionalism codes like the American Student Dental Association Code of Ethics. Any of these issues, caused or exacerbated by a psychiatric adverse event, can lead to disciplinary charges and the threat of suspension and expulsion from dental school. Disciplinary charges due to psychiatric adverse events are serious business for the dental student, requiring serious attention and action.

Dental Schools May Need Convincing

You've seen above that dental schools should be reasonably accommodating their students' psychiatric disabilities. But when hidden psychiatric disabilities contribute to academic issues, behavioral issues, or professionalism issues that the school would ordinarily address through misconduct charges, the school may need convincing to instead treat them properly through disability channels. The contributing effect of a psychiatric disability isn't always obvious. Indeed, it's seldom obvious. Convincing a dental school not to suspend and expel a student whose unaccommodated psychiatric disability led to academic, behavioral, or professionalism issues can take substantial documentation, advocacy, and negotiation. School disciplinary officials may not have the training and sensitivity of school disability accommodations officials. Don't expect that you can simply tell your dental school that your academic, behavioral, or professionalism issue was due to your psychiatric adverse event and its underlying psychiatric disability. A disability claim isn't a magic wand in disciplinary proceedings.

Dental School Procedures

Dental students generally challenge unfair disciplinary charges arising out of psychiatric adverse events through school disciplinary procedures. Contract or constitutional rights require your dental school to provide you with due process before depriving you of your dental education. Dental school student conduct policies generally include administrative procedures for determining the credibility and fairness of a disciplinary charge, like the procedures in the student code of conduct at the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry. If you face academic, behavioral, or professionalism charges at your dental school, retain national student defense attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm student defense team to invoke these procedures:

  • Grade appeals to raise a low grade and grade point average
  • Grade appeal to turn a failing grade into a passing grade
  • Satisfactory academic progress appeal based on special circumstances
  • Misconduct investigation response supplying exonerating evidence
  • Misconduct hearing presenting and cross-examining witnesses
  • Misconduct sanction hearing supplying mitigating evidence
  • Misconduct finding and sanction appeals
  • Professionalism charge response supplying exonerating evidence
  • Professionalism hearing presenting and cross-examining witnesses
  • Professionalism finding and sanction appeals
  • Appeals of findings and sanctions to disability offices and officials

Alternative Available Relief

Your dental school should offer one or more formal procedures through which, with skilled and experienced student defense attorney representation, you may challenge your disciplinary charges or sanctions. But those procedures may not be your only avenue for relief. National student defense attorney Joseph D. Lento has a national reputation and nationwide network of professional contacts with college and university general counsel offices, outside retained counsel, and other oversight channels. Dental schools and their universities don't simply rely on disciplinary officials for final action on student misconduct charges. They routinely have oversight officials to ensure that every decision is the best decision for the student and school. Attorney Lento knows how to deal firmly and diplomatically with those oversight officials to construct alternative special relief in many cases. Attorney Lento may be able to help you save your dental school education and dental career, even if you have already exhausted all hearings, appeals, and other administrative procedures.

Defense Attorney for Psychiatric Event Discipline

If a psychiatric adverse event has contributed to your academic progression problem, behavioral misconduct issue, or professionalism issue in your dental school, you need and deserve premier attorney representation. Your best move is to retain a skilled and experienced student defense attorney to convince your dental school disciplinary, disability accommodations, and oversight officials to grant you the special relief you deserve. Retain national student defense attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm for winning defense of dental school disciplinary charges. Call 888-535-3686 for a consultation now or use the online service.

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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 the Lento Law Firm today, and let us help secure your academic career.

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