The University of Louisville (UofL) School of Medicine traces its beginnings back to 1837, making it the ninth oldest medical school in the U.S. Today, the medical school stands among the top-ranked research institutions in the country, having been credited with the first successful implantation of a self-contained artificial heart and the first hand transplant, among other achievements.
Given that the field of medicine is a public trust, medical students rely largely on a pristine academic and professional record to open career doors for them. When that record becomes endangered or tarnished by allegations of misconduct or poor performance, it can greatly impede their ability to move forward into a medical career. When unfair allegations, misunderstandings, or other medical school concerns threaten a student's future, an attorney-advisor's involvement can make a huge difference in the outcome.
At UofL School of Medicine, students are held to high standards of academic and professional integrity. The school's expectations are spelled out in its Honor Code, which reads (in part):
“Since professionalism is an integral part of medical education and being a physician, professional conduct is an academic issue. Students are expected to demonstrate integrity and honesty, concern and respect for others and act in a responsible and professional manner. Matriculation into the University of Louisville School of Medicine constitutes acceptance of the Honor Code and the policies and procedures involved in administering it.”
While the Student Promotions Committee monitors academic progress in general, the school takes its Honor Code so seriously that in 2014, they instituted a specific separate council, the Honor and Professionalism Advocacy Council (HPAC), to enforce it. Allegations of academic, professional, and ethical misconduct are taken seriously and investigated thoroughly. If a student is found to be in violation of the Honor Code or principles of student conduct, the school may prescribe one or more disciplinary sanctions, ranging from reprimands and probation to suspension or expulsion.
It is quite common in medical schools, given the high academic standards and sometimes-grueling course work, for even the best students to fall behind or struggle to maintain good grades. To help struggling students “right the ship” academically and ensure they meet the qualifications for a medical degree, the Student Promotions Committee frequently offers remedial solutions as an alternative to dismissal. Remediation is generally customized to the individual student's needs and may include repeating a failed course or even repeating a year.
Obviously, remediation comes at a potentially considerable cost and extra time for the medical student to complete. However, when the only other alternative is dismissal, remediation can be a lifeline to save the student's career.
Medical students need to be mindful, however, of the potential consequences of remediation. Although it can allow a struggling student to continue forward in medical school, whether warranted or not, remediation can lessen future residency and employment opportunities, and as a result, future earning capacity.
At UofL, “expulsion” is a permanent separation that can take one of two forms: expulsion from an “academic unit” (e.g., the School of Medicine), in which case the student may qualify to enroll in a different program in the University; and expulsion from all programs and academic units (sometimes recommended for egregious allegations).
Expulsion from medical school is the worst outcome for a student's career because it is very difficult, if not impossible, to overcome. In addition to being denied a medical education, the student may face a slew of additional complications, including:
- Hindrances to re-enrollment. Dismissed medical students attempting to re-enroll elsewhere may have an uphill battle due to the stringent acceptance standards in most medical schools.
- Loss of academic progress. If the student passes the first hurdle of re-enrolling in school, any progress previously made in medical school will need to be repeated—amounting to months or years of repeated course work.
- Potentially crushing student debt. It is not uncommon for a medical student to take out tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loans to pay for medical school, banking on their future physician's salary to pay it back. Expulsion all but eliminates the option of a physician's salary, but the debt is still owed.
University of Louisville School of Medicine uses very strict language regarding appeals of disciplinary decisions. If school policy allows for an appeal, that appeal must be made within 10 days of the determination of the committee or council. In cases of expulsion, the school claims the student's right to appeal is forfeit; however, the student may a file a grievance with the University Student Grievance Committee if the student believes they has been unfairly treated, discriminated against, or had their rights violated in the process.
In many cases, especially when the student's academic record is at risk, the appeals process may be the final opportunity to restore their good name and rescue their career. It's highly advisable to hire an attorney-advisor to help navigate the complex appeals process of this school, especially if expulsion is imminent.
Hiring an Attorney-Advisor
It's the job of a medical school to train, equip, and empower students for a career in medicine—but unfortunately, due to the ongoing pressures of medical schools to maintain a flawless reputation, sometimes the student becomes a victim of the school rushing to judgment in the name of swift justice, having their due process rights violated in the process, and putting career prospects into jeopardy. An experienced attorney-advisor can mitigate this risk by providing expert advice and counsel to help the student present their best defense or response to misconduct allegations and other medical school issues. In addition, an attorney-advisor's involvement can protect the student from losing due process due to a lack of knowledge or understanding of disciplinary processes. Quite often, this added support is sufficient to restore the student's good name and career prospects.
Joseph D. Lento is a renowned expert in student rights and student discipline matters nationwide, and he has successfully helped students navigate and resolve academic issues, difficult conduct allegations, and other concerns unique to medical schools. If you are facing adverse actions from your school, don't go it alone. Call the Lento Law Firm at (888) 535-3686 to see how we can help.