The University of Alabama School of Medicine originated in Mobile, AL as the Medical College of Alabama back in 1859, eventually affiliating with the University of Alabama around 1900. Today, after several moves over the years, the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine now anchors several branch campuses with an enrollment of more than 800 students.
In keeping with the high public trust given to the medical profession, UAB School of Medicine holds its medical students to the highest standards of academic and professional conduct. Decisions regarding academic discipline are administered by the Student Academic Standing Committee (SASC), while disciplinary issues over misconduct are generally handled by the Honor Council and the Senior Associate Dean of Medical Education.
For medical students, maintaining a pristine academic record is critical to future opportunities, and disciplinary proceedings can have sharply negative impacts on a student's career prospects. Hiring an attorney-advisor can help ensure the student's due process rights are preserved, and in many cases may even save the student's career.
Honor Code and Code of Professional Conduct
Upon enrolling in UAB School of Medicine, all medical students must agree to adhere to the school's Academic Honor Code and sign the following Pledge:
“I have read and, by choosing to become a member of the UAB academic community, accept the UAB Honor Code. I understand that violation of this code will result in penalties as severe as expulsion from the university. I promise and confirm that I will not, at any time and under any circumstances, involve myself with abetting, cheating, plagiarism, fabrication, or misrepresentation while enrolled as a student at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.”
In addition, students agree to abide by a Code of Professional Conduct to orient the student with the ethical standards of the medical profession.
Allegations of academic and professional misconduct are taken very seriously by the University and are evaluated by the Honor Council, an elected board consisting of both students and faculty. After fact-finding and hearing procedures, if the Honor Council finds validity to the claims, it will make a recommendation by majority vote as to discipline and refer it to the Senior Associate Dean of Medical Education for a final decision. Sanctions for misconduct range from warnings and probation to suspension or expulsion.
Students at the UAB School of Medicine must adhere to exacting course schedules and strict levels of academic progress. Given the high standards and aggressive course work, sometimes even the most academically proficient students struggle to meet the demands. For this reason, UAB has laid out an extensive remediation program to allow students to get back on track academically. Depending on the extent of the shortfalls or failed courses, remediation may range anywhere from repeating a single course to repeating a complete academic year.
Remediation can be costly and time-consuming, and in some cases, it can be avoided by a successful grade appeal. However, when a medical student faces dismissal for academic shortcomings, remediation presents an opportunity to rescue their career.
Indefinite Suspension and Dismissal/Expulsion
At UAB School of Medicine, severe academic shortfalls and/or incidents of misconduct can be penalized by a temporary or permanent removal from the University. If a medical student is placed on “indefinite suspension,” he/she may have the opportunity to apply for readmission after one year, at the sole discretion of the University. Academic dismissal or expulsion for misconduct are different terms, but they both represent a permanent separation from the school.
A medical student who is dismissed or expelled faces a potentially permanent disruption of their career track. Beyond the humiliation of dismissal and the permanent mark placed on the student's academic record, expulsion can cause an array of additional problems including:
- Difficulty re-enrolling at another school. Given the strict admissions standards most medical schools maintain, most will not give high priority to an applicant who has already been dismissed from another medical school.
- Loss of all academic progress. Expulsion effectively erases all prior academic credit toward a medical degree, so in the event the student can re-enroll, they will start again from the beginning.
- Significant financial loss. Medical school is expensive. Dismissal from medical school does not result in a refund of tuition, meaning that money is lost.
- Excessive student debt. It is not uncommon for medical students to take on hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loans, banking on their physician's salary to pay it back. With the medical career in jeopardy due to expulsion, the debt may exceed the student's ability to pay it.
Given all these repercussions, it is always in the best interest of the medical student facing disciplinary action to find an outcome with the school that serves as an alternative to dismissal.
Before any disciplinary sanction goes into effect, the student has the right to file an appeal to the Administrative Appeals Committee. The UAB only considers student appeals on the following grounds:
- Significant evidence of a procedural error;
- Significant evidence of bias; or
- Introduction of new evidence that may change the outcome.
When a medical student faces expulsion or dismissal, the appeals process may present the last opportunity to rescue a derailed academic career. The UAB only allows a window of five working days for a student to file an appeal.
Attorney Advisor for Disciplinary Action
Medical schools are under constant pressure both to turn out highly qualified graduates and to maintain a reputation that is above reproach. Unfortunately, this pressure sometimes results in disciplinary actions against students that are hasty and/or disproportionate, often failing to honor due process. Having an experienced attorney in an advisory role can often help a student overcome these challenges, resulting in a more positive outcome, and in many cases saving the student's future career in medicine.
Joseph Lento helps medical students navigate the murky waters of alleged academic and professional misconduct. Contact the office of the Lento Law Firm at (888) 535-3686 today to learn more.