Diverse Docket: Courts Backing Schools on Requirements of Student Professionalism

Amir Al-Dabagh did well academically, publishing articles and winning a research award as a medical student at Case Western Reserve University. But he didn’t do well in terms of behavior, including sexual harassment of female students at a formal dance, complaints about his demeanor in an internal medicine internship and a drunken driving conviction.

As a result, the university decided Al-Dabagh’s lack of professionalism made him unqualified for a degree. Al-Dabagh sued and a lower-court judge ordered the university to award his M.D.

Now in one of a number of cases involving professionalism requirements for future practitioners, a federal appeals court has upheld a university’s right to consider professionalism as a mandatory qualification for graduation.

“Anyone who has ever been to a doctor’s office knows the value of a good bedside manner,” the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals wrote in the Al-Dabagh case. “That is why Case Western does more than just teach its students facts about the human body. Its curriculum identifies nine core competencies. First on the list is professionalism.

“Medical knowledge does not make an appearance until the fifth slot,” the court said.

Dr. John Prescott, the chief academic officer for the Association of American Medical Colleges, said his organization is pleased by court rulings recognizing that faculties “are best qualified” to make such assessments of their own students.

“These decisions further enforce that vital role that medical schools make in academic judgments. In academic judgments we certainly include professionalism,” said Prescott, a former medical school dean at West Virginia University. <Read more.>

Via Eric Freedman, Diverse Issues in Higher Education.