By Deborah Cho
As an update to my previous post here on medical students and professionalism, Judge Sutton writing for the Sixth Circuit found that a medical school could deny a degree to a medical student for failing to meet “professionalism” requirements. According to the opinion, the medical student had come late to classroom sessions, allegedly behaved inappropriately at a formal dance, had to repeat his internal medicine rotation due to poor performance, and had been convicted of driving white intoxicated. The Sixth Circuit found that Ohio, where the medical school is located, treats the relationship between a university and a student as contractual in nature, with that contract’s terms supplied by the student handbook. As the handbook in this case included professionalism as part of the academic curriculum, the university’s determination that the student failed to meet professionalism requirements was an academic judgment and thus merited deference by the court.
Last summer, Judge Gwin of the Northern District of Ohio found that the medical school went beyond its scope of duty by extending its determination of professionalism well past academic or patient related matters. The district court found for the student, noting that the “character judgments” found by the university were “only distantly related to medical education.” In my last post, I noted that this separation of personal character from competence to practice medicine seemed troublesome. The Sixth Circuit’s opinion reversing the district court shows similar concerns.