4.08 Procedures for Consideration of Unprofessional Conduct
Conduct inappropriate to the medical profession is behavior that raises serious doubts about the integrity, character, and faithfulness of a student in meeting the obligations of a medical career. Illegal, unethical, or other behavior inappropriate to the medical profession that is engaged in by a student outside of the Medical School community may also be considered and addressed under these procedures. See Section 4.01, Responsibilities of Teachers and Learners, for standards of professional conduct and responsibility.
When information suggesting the possibility that a student has engaged in conduct inappropriate to the medical profession is brought to the attention of the Dean for Medical Education, the Dean for Students, the Academic Society Master, or the Promotion and Review Board (PRB), the PRB will take up the matter formally. Where the health, safety, or welfare of students, patients, or other members of the Medical School community is deemed to be at risk, the Dean for Medical Education will suspend the student from the Medical School or take any other protective action pending the outcome of these procedures.
When information suggesting the possibility of conduct inappropriate to the medical profession implicates both the rules and functions of the PRB and the Procedures for Resolving Complaints of Discrimination, Harassment, or Unprofessional Relationships and Abuse of Authority (http://hms.harvard.edu/content/procedures-resolving-complaints), the PRB, in consultation with the HMS Ombudsperson when appropriate, will determine which procedure will apply, but ordinarily the matter will be handled by the PRB. When both the Procedures for Consideration of Unprofessional Conduct and those of the PRB may apply, ordinarily the matter will be handled under the Procedures for Consideration of Unprofessional Conduct. When both the Procedures for Consideration of Unprofessional Conduct and the Procedures for Resolving Complaints of Discrimination, Harassment, or Unprofessional Relationships and Abuse of Authority may apply, ordinarily the matter will be handled under the Procedures for Consideration of Unprofessional Conduct.
When the student is simultaneously a candidate for a degree in another faculty, the Dean for Students will consult with that faculty to decide which faculty will take primary responsibility for resolving the question of unprofessional conduct and will determine a common action before advising the student. When further action by the Faculty of Medicine is required, the student and his/her Society Master will be notified in writing by the Dean for Students.
When further action is deemed necessary by the PRB, the PRB may appoint an independent fact-finder. The fact-finder will be a Harvard administrator or faculty member drawn from the Medical School or elsewhere. The fact-finder will interview the student and may interview other individuals with relevant knowledge, solicit written statements, review the documentary record, and undertake whatever action is required to elucidate the facts of the matter. At the conclusion of his/her inquiry, the fact-finder will prepare a written report describing the inquiry process and his/her findings of fact, identifying any disputed facts. Ordinarily, fact-finding will be expected to be completed within 30 days. The fact-finder’s report will be submitted to the PRB. The student will also be provided with a copy of the report for his/her written comments. Any comments must be submitted to the PRB within 10 days of receipt of the fact-finder’s report.
The PRB will review the student’s record and current situation in consultation with the student’s Academic Society Master and will determine a course of action that may include, but not be limited to, placement in any of the previously indicated structured academic categories (Section 4.03). In matters of consideration of unprofessional conduct, the PRB may also interview the student and may undertake any other action it deems necessary to arrive at its conclusions, including consulting with senior faculty of the University when additional expertise would be useful.
The student will be notified in writing of the decision of the PRB. A copy of such notice will be sent to the student’s Academic Society Master, the Dean for Medical Education, the Dean for Students, and the HMS Registrar. The student and/or Society Master may be asked to respond to the stated concerns of the PRB.
Any student who is required to withdraw or is expelled as a result of the PRB’s deliberations may apply to the PRB to reconsider its decision. The application must be in writing and must introduce new information or elucidate different grounds upon which reconsideration is requested. The application must be received by the PRB within 10 days of the student’s receipt of notice of the decision on remedial action or sanction.
The PRB may affirm, revise (make more or less severe), or revoke its decision. Written notification of the action on reconsideration will be sent to the student, to his or her Society Master, and to the HMS Registrar, ordinarily within 10 days of receipt of the application for reconsideration. Such notification will constitute the final action of the PRB.
A student may appeal the final action of the PRB to a three-member Appeals Panel designated by the Chair of the Standing Committee on Rights and Responsibilities (SCRR; Section 4.04) in consultation with the Chair of the PRB. The student’s appeal must be in writing and must contain a full statement of the reasons upon which an appeal is requested. The Appeals Panel must receive the appeal within 10 business days of the date of final action by the PRB. The Appeals Panel will hear the student in person and will review the documentary record. The Appeals Panel may adduce and consider any other information it deems useful in reaching a decision. The Appeals Panel will submit a written report of its findings and recommendations to the Dean for Medical Education. In so doing, the Appeals Panel may affirm, revise (make more or less severe), or revoke the final action of the PRB.
The student may request review of the decision of the Appeals Panel by the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine. The Dean of the Faculty of Medicine must receive any such request for review within five business days of the date of the decision of the Appeals Panel. The Dean of the Faculty of Medicine will review the matter, in consultation with the Dean for Medical Education, Academic Society Master, or others (e.g., the Faculty Council) if he wishes, and will provide written notice of his decision to the student, his/her Society Master, the Dean for Medical Education, the HMS Registrar, and the PRB. The Dean’s decision will be final and binding, except in cases of expulsion in which a two-thirds vote of the Faculty Council is required.
Voluntary Withdrawal during Pendency of a Disciplinary Proceeding
The transcripts of students who are withdrawn from the MD program pending the outcome of disciplinary proceedings will contain a notation indicating that the student is in a period of “voluntary withdrawal during pendency of a disciplinary proceeding.”
Policy on Unprofessional Student Comments in Course Surveys
Harvard Medical School (HMS) regularly solicits student feedback on various aspects of the curriculum in order to improve the educational experience for all students. To that end, we ask that, for all core courses, students provide feedback that is candid, constructive, and critical. This is done via an electronic course survey process that ensures complete confidentiality, and all course surveys and accompanying comments are withheld from course directors until after the course grades have been submitted to the Registrar.
In certain rare cases, however, comments from students cross a clear line from critical to offensive, while possessing no redeeming constructive value. Because these comments are made available to the individual faculty member as well as a number of educational professionals at HMS, including the chair of the instructor’s appointing department, unprofessional comments have the potential to inflict real harm on an individual faculty member, which violates a key tenet of the medical profession.
For this reason, the Curriculum Committee voted to establish a process that will ensure the continued integrity and confidentiality of the course survey process while providing an outlet to address the rare abuses that occur within the system.
In order to achieve this goal, a joint ad hoc committee comprised of three students and two academic society masters will be established to review any comment on a course survey deemed to be unprofessional by a course director, instructor, or official in the Center for Evaluation. To ensure that students on this committee represent the will of the student body, student members of this committee will be either elected student representatives to the Curriculum Committee or other curriculum governance committee or other students who hold elective office, e.g., the Student Council Executive Committee. If a majority of the ad hoc committee agrees that the comment does indeed constitute unprofessional conduct, the Center for Evaluation will authorize the HMS Information Technology department to override the confidentiality protections and identify the responsible student. This information will be provided exclusively to the student’s Society Master, who will determine the remediation approach most helpful to the student. The comment will also be redacted from the course survey record.
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