The University of North Carolina School of Medicine comes from a legacy of “firsts.” The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was founded in 1793 as the first public university in the new United States, and School of Medicine began in 1879 as the first university-sponsored medical school in the nation. Today, this noted school is one of the top medical schools in the country, ranked first in the nation in primary care. Understandably, the school holds its students to exceptional standards of academic and professional excellence.
For medical students, a pristine academic record is key to opening doors for career opportunities in medicine. Allegations of professional or academic misconduct can reflect badly on a student's record, possibly jeopardizing the student's future career. Hiring advisory counsel to help guide the student through disciplinary proceedings can go a long way toward protecting the student's record, and ultimately, their professional future.
Honor Code and Student Conduct
UNC School of Medicine holds its students to the terms and policies laid out in the University's Honor Code. “The Honor Code embodies the ideals of academic honesty, integrity, and responsible citizenship, and governs the performance of all academic work a student conducts at the University,” it reads in the Honor Code introduction. “Acceptance of an offer of admission to Carolina presupposes a commitment to the principles embodied in our century-old tradition of honor and integrity.”
All matters of academic and professional discipline are handled through the University's Office of Student Conduct and processed through the appropriate chain of command. For medical school students, allegations are first reviewed by the Graduate or Professional Student Attorney General, then referred to an Honor Court if a hearing is deemed necessary. If the hearing validates the allegations of misconduct, the Honor Court will recommend sanctions that may range from loss of privileges to disciplinary suspension, and even expulsion. The final authority on discipline lies with the Chancellor of the University.
Pursuing a medical degree requires a commitment to meet stringent academic standards and sometimes grueling course schedules. Occasionally, even the most dedicated students may have trouble keeping up with the pace. In such cases, the UNC School of Medicine offers provisions for remediation to help students “right the ship” academically. The Student Promotions Committee oversees student grades and recommends remedial courses on a case-by-case basis. The school also provides a system for disputing grades, which may sidestep the need for remediation if successful.
Remedial work is inconvenient, costly, and time-consuming. However, in cases where the student might face dismissal otherwise, remediation can be a welcome alternative to preserving the student's career options.
In cases where a medical student's academic performance is consistently lacking, or in situations of significant academic or professional misconduct, the Honor Court may recommend expulsion, which means “a student is
removed from the University permanently.” School policy does provide for the current or succeeding Chancellor to allow an expelled student to re-apply if the student provides a compelling reason, but for all intents and purposes, expelled students may not re-apply to any other UNC property.
For a medical student, expulsion is the worst-case scenario and can seriously jeopardize his/her career plans. Not only does the student face the humiliation of expulsion, but the expulsion itself can have lingering negative effects that compound on one another. These consequences include the following:
- Challenges in re-enrolling elsewhere. Most medical schools are quite selective in their acceptance policies, and students who have previously been expelled are not considered high-priority candidates.
- Starting over from the beginning. If a student does manage to get back into medical school, the expulsion will have deleted his/her academic progress so far. The student starts from the beginning, at additional time and expense.
- Overwhelming student debt. It's not uncommon for medical students to take on hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loans expecting to repay them with their future physician's salary. Expulsion throws the student's career prospects into question; it does not eliminate the debt.
Students have the right to file an appeal before any disciplinary action becomes final. UNC School of Medicine allows 10 days for the student to file an appeal in writing, and when the student faces expulsion, this appeal may be the final opportunity to save his/her career. Appeals are considered on any of the following grounds:
- Mathematical, clerical or procedural error
- Evidence of arbitrariness or discrimination
- Evidence of personal malice
- Inappropriate jurisdiction
Medical schools are under intense public pressure to maintain trust through upholding high academic standards as well as a flawless reputation. Occasionally, this pressure may result in a student suffering disproportionate discipline without proper due process. UNC policy specifically prohibits a student from bringing legal counsel into disciplinary hearings, only allowing advocates from within the school itself. However, hiring advisory counsel to provide guidance outside the hearings can help you make smart choices in your own defense and ensure you take the appropriate steps to protect your due process rights, and quite possibly, your career.
Joseph Lento can provide essential advisory support for medical students facing academic or professional discipline. Contact the Lento Law Firm at (888) 535-3686 today to learn more.