What To Do if You’re Accused of Nursing Academic Misconduct

Understanding Disciplinary Procedures for Cheating, Plagiarism and More

When a nursing student has been accused of academic misconduct, it can affect their future ability to get into a graduate school or other specialized program, obtain a professional nursing license, or get a nursing job.

A quick look at a few of the nurse and nursing student discussion boards reveals some of the concerns people are worried about, including these discussions on allnurses.com:

  • A student who was expelled from a BSN program for academic misconduct is worried they'll have to submit transcripts from the failed program when they apply to other nursing programs.
  • A prospective nursing student wonders whether disciplinary action for plagiarism in college will prevent her from getting into nursing school.
  • Another says they got caught cheating on a test during their nursing pre-requisites in community college. Now that they're applying to four-year universities and colleges, they're worried that having an academic dishonesty record on their transcript is “kind of a deal-breaker.”

Nursing Expectations Are Higher

The expectations that you face in nursing school may be higher than you think. Nursing programs are not high school, where a good part of the program has to do with socialization and maturation. Nursing programs are instead professional programs. They demand that their students meet professional standards. Nursing programs also expect that you display good fitness and sound character. Nursing programs aren't in the business of coddling students while they mature. Nursing students need to display honesty, respect for the rules, and respect for professional customs and conventions. Academic misconduct like cheating, plagiarism, and misrepresentations can indicate that the student is not fit and ready for nursing practice without creating unacceptable safety and health risks. Nursing practice is the real world. Nursing schools need to replicate real-world experiences where actions have consequences. Nursing students need to avoid academic misconduct at all costs.

The Consequences of Misconduct Are Bigger

You may also have more at risk than you think when facing nursing academic misconduct charges. The punishment for academic misconduct is not simply a question of a slap on the wrist. Nursing schools have a role not just in shaping sound behavior but also in winnowing out candidates who don't demonstrate the required fitness and character. The nursing student who commits academic misconduct faces a significant risk of suspension or expulsion from the nursing program. You may not get a second chance.

It's also a fact that nursing academic misconduct can render you ineligible for admission to another nursing program. This is addressed in the admission requirements for many nursing programs, including the program at Georgia Southwestern State University.They state that applicants “must not have been excluded from another nursing program for any reason, including (but not limited to) academic misconduct, disruptive behavior, or program failure.” (RN-BSN Program Eligibility Requirements)

The Consequences of Academic Misconduct Can Be Long Term

If your nursing program finds that you committed academic misconduct, you may suffer consequences long after the immediate issue has been resolved. An academic misconduct finding can continue to impact your career, reputation, and life long after you receive a reprimand or serve a suspension. Repeating courses, serving a suspension, or doing extra education and training can certainly slow your academic progress.

For example, in 2018, the West Virginia Record reported that a nursing student at West Virginia University had filed a complaint against the school, alleging, among other things, that the school had denied her right to due process. A professor accused her of academic misconduct after another student said she had cheated on a test, and the professor thought she “looked nervous during the exam.The student received a zero on the exam and had to retake the class, slowing down her academic progress.

But the delay and the attendant extra tuition and housing costs may not be the most serious impacts to an academic misconduct finding. You can lose opportunities for references, recommendation letters, special clinics and internships, and jobs. Academic misconduct findings can close doors to things like scholarships, honors, and awards, and the professional opportunities, reputation, and prestige that go along with them. They say that the student who starts strong finishes strong. The opposite can also be true that the student who suffers academic misconduct findings can lag not just through school but into and through a career. You have a lot on the line when facing nursing academic misconduct charges.

Questions from Nursing Students Accused of Academic Misconduct

Receiving a notice from your nursing program that it suspects you of academic misconduct is an unnerving event. If you've received a letter from your professor or the dean of your nursing school saying you've been accused of academic misconduct, you probably have a lot of questions. Indeed, you should have questions. The worst thing you can do when receiving notice of academic misconduct charges is to ignore the charges, hoping they'll go away. You should instead be thinking about what you need to learn to successfully contest the charges. Helpful questions can include:

  • What is academic misconduct?
  • Who defines academic misconduct?
  • Who is accusing me?
  • Why do nursing schools take academic misconduct so seriously?
  • What should I do?
  • What if I didn't do anything wrong?
  • What is the school going to do?
  • Who oversees the disciplinary process?
  • Will I get kicked out of school for academic misconduct?
  • Will this stay on my permanent academic record?
  • Will it affect my chances of getting a nursing job after I graduate?

Why Information Is Important

To navigate nursing academic misconduct charges successfully, you need answers to those questions. Your knowledge will give you a sound base from which to make wise and strategic decisions about how to handle the charges. You have a role. Don't think that you are helpless in the face of academic misconduct accusations. Your most significant strategic decision in overcoming the charges will be to get informed so that you can get the right help to take the right action.

Missteps are easy when navigating an academic administrative process. You can face hard deadlines, like answering a charge, that you must meet at risk of defaulting into sanctions. You can also face soft deadlines, like providing witness names and information, the unanticipated passing of which will put you at significant procedural disadvantages. In short, you need to know the rules, definitions, conventions, and procedures so that you can make the right showing in the right forum at the right time. When facing nursing academic misconduct charges, knowledge is power. Get the power.

Talk to an Experienced Students' Rights Attorney

An experienced students' rights attorney will be able to answer your questions and guide you through the maze of bureaucratic procedures ahead. One of the distinct marks of a nursing professional is that they know which expert to consult on what issue. You wouldn't have a plumber confirm a medical prescription. The same approach is necessary when facing nursing academic misconduct charges. You need the help of a qualified advocacy expert.

That expert is an attorney but not just any attorney. Academic administrative matters differ from routine transactional or even court matters. Lawyers in general practice, or even lawyers who litigate court cases, generally don't have the necessary specialized knowledge of academic administrative procedures. Colleges and universities, including nursing programs, don't follow court rules. They have their own rules. A skilled and experienced academic administrative attorney knows how to find and follow those rules. An experienced academic attorney also knows the unique culture and expectations of the academy, including professional schools like nursing programs.

Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm have helped hundreds of nursing students across the country through a wide range of issues, including academic misconduct hearings, dismissal proceedings, Title IX actions, and more. Contact the Lento Law Firm today at 888.535.3686 for a consultation about your specific concerns.

What is Academic Misconduct?

Most college and university students, including nursing students, have a general idea of what could constitute academic misconduct. But general ideas are not enough. Misconduct definitions can vary from one school to another, so always check your school's Code of Conduct. For instance, the University of California School of Nursing defines academic misconduct as:

  • Cheating
  • Plagiarism
  • False Information
  • Theft or damage of intellectual property
  • Alteration of school documents
  • Sharing or distributing lecture notes or exam information to “provide undue advantage to others or for commercial purposes”

For another example, academic misconduct at The University of Washington School of Nursing includes cheating on exams and plagiarism, as well as:

  • Submitting the same paper for credit in more than one class
  • Unauthorized collaboration

But those examples are just the common forms of academic misconduct. Other examples of academic misconduct can include:

  • Fabricating data/research/results
  • Impersonating another student (or allowing someone to impersonate you) to take a test or complete an assignment
  • Sabotaging other students
  • Bribery or blackmail

Who Writes These Policies? Who Defines “Academic Misconduct”?

You may believe the agencies that manage the nursing school accreditation process—namely, the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (formerly the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission, Inc.) and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education—oversee defining and dealing with academic misconduct. Surprisingly, this is not within the scope of their accreditation requirements.

Instead, each school “runs its own show.” Academic misconduct is defined by the schools and dealt with according to school policies. They create these policies to support their own loosely defined goals, such as advancing the university's mission, adhering to board directives, promoting efficiency, and mitigating risk to the institution. An example of this can be found in the University of Minnesota's policy on establishing administrative policies.

Nursing students accused of academic misconduct should never lose sight of the fact that the school is not their friend. The school will always look out for its own interests first and foremost.

Why Do Nursing Schools Take Academic Misconduct So Seriously?

The reason why nursing programs, in particular, take academic misconduct so seriously should be obvious to every nursing student: nurses are entrusted with the health and lives of their patients. If you were studying, say, medieval literature, you might not face similar concerns over your character and fitness. Professionals like lawyers, engineers, and accountants deal with their clients' most significant legal, financial, and property matters. Yet, the stakes are even higher for doctors and nurses whose patients entrust them with their lives. For this reason, we hold nurses and nursing students to high academic and professional standards.

The American Nurses Association has set the standards of professionalism for all nurses in their publication Nursing: Scope and Standards of Practice (4th edition, published 2021). These standards require all nurses to act ethically, communicate effectively, and practice in a manner “that is congruent with cultural divergence and inclusion principles.” Nursing schools properly police the line between ethical and unethical nursing behaviors.

Don't think that academic misconduct is one thing, while professional performance is another thing. The two have a close relationship. A number of studies have established a link between academic dishonesty in nursing school and subsequent nurse dishonesty in the clinical setting. Evidently, nursing students who cheat and plagiarize become nurses who make false entries in clinical records or fabricate lab data. According to one study, Academic dishonesty: What impact does it have and what can faculty do?), this “lack of professional integrity may result in poor outcomes for patients as well as loss of trust from patients and from colleagues.”

What Should I Do First?

What you first do when facing nursing academic misconduct charges makes a difference. Put strategies in place to make the most of your difficult situation. Positive outcomes are possible. But you must believe so and then act on your belief. The first thing to do is to believe that your actions can and will make a difference in successfully navigating the charges. The corollary, though, is to get help. The number one thing you should do is to retain an experienced academic administrative attorney. Don't begin on the wrong foot by trying to defend yourself. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm are available to help you, just as they have helped nursing students nationwide. Contact the Lento Law Firm today at 888.535.3686.

Answering Academic Misconduct Charges

If you've been accused of academic misconduct, you will need to timely and properly respond to the allegations. Colleges and universities, including nursing programs, must give a student fair notice of the charges before pursuing any sanction. But when your nursing school gives notice, it will likely expect your answer. Ignoring the charges can result in administrative default, meaning you lose the opportunity later to contest the charges. Your answer needs to be timely, accurate, and complete. Get the help of an academic administrative attorney for your answer to misconduct charges.

What If I Didn't Do Anything Wrong?

An academic misconduct charge is not the same as a finding of academic misconduct. A charge just means that your school suspects something. Nursing schools make mistakes when charging academic misconduct. They sometimes suspect cheating where none occurred. They sometimes misidentify who the cheaters were. They also overlook exonerating evidence and mitigating circumstances. If you've been accused of academic misconduct, you have a right to due process. You will have multiple opportunities to present your side of the story. Even if you did nothing wrong, having an experienced students' rights attorney in your corner will ensure your best chances of success in responding to the allegations.

What Is the School Going to Do?

Each school of nursing has created its own disciplinary policies and procedures, including those for academic misconduct. While there are many commonalities among the different schools' policies, it's important that you familiarize yourself with your school's code of conduct and disciplinary processes. Your school holds you responsible for adhering to the code of conduct whether you've read it or not. Your school also expects you to follow its misconduct procedures, whether you've read those procedures or not. Examples of academic misconduct disciplinary actions at different nursing schools include:

Yale University School of Nursing

  • Report: Someone notifies the dean in writing of your suspected academic misconduct in writing. Anyone can report you: a professor, fellow student, member of the public, etc.
  • Notification: The dean's office notifies you, giving you a week to respond.
  • Committee: The matter will go to the student discipline committee unless the dean decides to withdraw the issue or you request that it be addressed without a formal hearing.
  • Representation: If your matter does go to a formal hearing, you are permitted to have a legal advisor present. The school will look out for its own best interests first. You can't assume it will consider your best interests. This is why having an experienced students' rights attorney on your side will help. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has assisted nursing students with myriad concerns and issues at schools across the country. Contact the Lento Law Firm at 888.535.3686 today for help.
  • Decision: The committee will make their decision and notify you. If the committee decides you are responsible for the academic misconduct, they will notify you and let you know what the penalty will be.
  • Review: If you disagree with their decision, you can file a request with the review committee.

University of Kansas School of Nursing

  • Report: The process begins after someone has reported you for academic misconduct.
  • Investigate: The faculty member or professional integrity committee-appointed investigator may conduct an investigation.
  • Notify: They will notify you.
  • Interview: They will schedule an interview.
  • Possible sanctions: If you confess or they find you responsible for academic misconduct, they will impose sanctions.
  • Possible continuation of the process, up to and including a hearing: “If suspicion remains or if the faculty member is unsure of which sanction to apply,” the faculty member will submit a report to the committee chair. They will contact you to schedule another interview. They might decide to schedule a hearing, in which case you can enlist the help of a legal advisor.

No matter where in the U.S. your school is located, Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm can assist you with misconduct hearings, dismissal proceedings, Title IX actions, and much more. Contact the Lento Law Firm at 888.535.3686 today for help.

Who Is Accusing Me?

It can help in defense of nursing academic misconduct charges to recognize who is the one complaining of cheating or other academic misconduct. Almost anyone can accuse a student of academic misconduct. You will be notified by your professor or dean with a letter outlining what you've been accused of, who is accusing you, and how and when the school expects you to respond. Here are some common complainants and their potential motivations or mistakes:

  • Professors who claim to detect cheating in examinations, papers, or clinical or lab work but who may not have provided clear instructions or may have mistaken who is responsible for the misconduct
  • Classmates who believe they have observed cheating but may not know the full circumstances or who may be motivated by competition, jealousy, or other personal circumstance
  • School staff members who may proctor exams or review student work or records but who may not know the professor's instructions, academic standards, or nursing requirements or conventions
  • Site supervisors who may not have skill, training, or experience as educators and may have supervised the nursing student inappropriately or set unreasonable expectations
  • Clinical patients who do not know nursing standards and may have inaccurate recollections or be motivated by other causes and concerns

Who Oversees the Disciplinary Process?

The school official or officials who oversee the disciplinary process are plainly important to how one successfully navigates a nursing academic misconduct charge. The quality and timeliness of your interaction, and your attorney representative's interaction, with those school officials will go a long way toward determining the outcome of your academic misconduct matter. Communications with those officials need to be prompt, accurate, complete, firm, clear, and positive. In many cases, the school of nursing dean will work with a disciplinary committee or board, for example:

Will I Get Kicked Out of Nursing School for Academic Misconduct?

If you admit to or are found responsible for engaging in serious academic misconduct, immediate consequences may include your having to retake a test or a course, suspension, or expulsion from school. Longer-term consequences could be your ineligibility for admission to another nursing program or not being able to obtain a nursing job. Your school may also revoke your nursing degree, even decades after graduating.

Alternatives to Suspension or Expulsion

One of the key roles that your academic administrative attorney can play in the discipline process is to work with school officials toward alternative solutions that do not delay your nursing education. With the right presentation from your attorney advocate, your nursing school may see the wisdom in treating your misconduct matter in a rehabilitative, rather than punitive, fashion. Nursing schools may alternatively provide for these other forms of discipline short of suspension or expulsion:

  • Warning, caution, or similar instruction to avoid future issues
  • Student apology or another oral or written expression of contrition
  • Probation or similar supervised second-chance status
  • Oral or written reprimand
  • Extra education and training
  • Community or school service
  • Reassignment to another professor, supervisor, course, or clinical site
  • Transfer to another school in lieu of further proceeding

Will Misconduct Stay on My Permanent Academic Record?

You are right to be concerned about your academic record. Schools generally do not expunge academic records after a certain time passes. A finding of academic misconduct may stay on your academic record permanently unless the school decides to remove it. Licensing boards and employers check academic records. Whatever your record includes, boards and employers are very likely to see it. Better, then, to work closely with your academic attorney to defeat the misconduct charges or, if necessary, to negotiate an alternative sanction that will not remain on your academic record.

Will Misconduct Affect My Chances of Getting a Nursing Job?

Academic misconduct findings on your nursing school record can affect your ability to qualify for a nursing license. You generally cannot get a nursing job without some form of state licensure or certification. The state boards that license and certify nurses require that you disclose school discipline. They also check school records. Your application for a nursing license must be complete and accurate. You must truthfully disclose whether you suffered any discipline. If your school finds that you committed academic misconduct, then you will very likely have to explain that finding to the licensing board's satisfaction. You could, in short, fail to get a license to practice nursing, depending on the nature and seriousness of your misconduct.

The same is true for employment. If an employer or potential employer sees allegations of academic misconduct in your record, they will reasonably question your suitability for a nursing job. Patients' lives are at stake, and the nurses who care for them are held to the highest ethical and clinical standards.

The American Nurses Association Code of Ethics for Nurses comprises nine provisions, among them:

“The nurse, through individual and collective effort, establishes, maintains, and improves the ethical environment of the work setting and conditions of employment that are conducive to safe, quality health care.”

Nursing Students Are Under Extreme Pressure

As a nursing student, pressure is coming at you from all sides. A 2012 study published in International Nursing Review talks about three categories of stress:

First, there are academic pressures. You have deadlines to meet, tests to take, and a workload to balance.

Then there are clinical pressures. The demands of clinical rotations can bring a whole new layer of stress, including fear of new situations and sadness when patients don't get better, or they die.

Finally, you may be experiencing stressful interpersonal issues, school-life imbalance, or even financial problems. You might be caring for children or a spouse, you may have a part-time job to offset educational expenses, and you may be coping with your own mental or physical health. If you're sacrificing sleep for study time, it could be compromising your immune system.

High Stress Levels in Nursing School Can Contribute to Academic Misconduct

In an ideal world, all students would be well-rested, calm, and completely prepared to manage their studies along with whatever else is happening in their lives. We all know this rosy picture doesn't reflect most people's experiences in nursing school or almost any other type of school.

Many nursing students who are tired, worried, distracted, and short on time resort to seeking a little relief in unethical ways. They might take a peek at a copy of exam answers someone has managed to obtain or try to pass off part or all of someone else's work as their own.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic started and many programs shifted their on-campus courses to virtual, there are even more opportunities for cheating, such as looking up the answers online during a test.

Attorney Joseph D. Lento Can Help Whether You Engaged in Academic Misconduct or Were Wrongly Accused

Attorney Joseph D. Lento has assisted nursing students with myriad concerns and issues at schools across the country. If you're a nursing student accused of academic or another type of misconduct, contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686. They would like to discuss your questions or concerns and will follow up with you immediately.

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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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