Dismissed nursing student wants to know her rights

Generally, if you’re a nursing student your rights in a dismissal proceeding depends on, first and foremost, if you are in a public post-secondary nursing education program or in a private nursing education program.

Public education program rights

If you are in a public college or university, your rights are dictated by the U.S. Constitution and case law interpreting your rights under the Constitution. Because you don’t leave the Constitution’s protections at the entryway of your academic campus, your rights follow you throughout the program.

  1. Notice of the reason for the dismissal.
  2. The right to a hearing before the dismissal occurs.
  3. Notice of the time and place of the dismissal hearing.
  4. The right to present witnesses in your favor.
  5. The right to a written decision by the academic program.
  6. In most instances, the right to legal representation at the hearing.

These rights are called due process rights. Because the law sees graduating from an educational program as a “property right” (ending in licensure), certain protections must be provided to the student to ensure a dismissal is not “arbitrary, capricious or discriminatory.”

You might wonder what the terms “arbitrary, capricious or discriminatory” mean.

An example of an arbitrary decision would be if it were illogical, subjective or made by chance. If you were dismissed without a solid, objective or valid reason, and you could prove this, the dismissal would not be upheld by a court.

A capricious decision of dismissal is one that is not predicted, is impulsive and is erratic. A nursing education program that makes fanciful decisions about who remains in the program and does not follow past decisions and its handbook would not be able to defend such a dismissal.

Discriminatory dismissal decisions are ones in which you are treated differently and not in accordance with the student handbook. If you are a male student and more demands are placed on you in your clinical and classroom requirements than female fellow students and you cannot meet these requirements and are dismissed, this can be seen by the courts as a discriminatory dismissal.

In addition, because a dismissal may prevent you from entering another nursing education program and meet your ultimate goal of graduation and licensure, the proceedings governing the dismissal must pass constitutional protections so that your  “liberty interest” in doing so are not violated.

Private education program rights

If, in contrast, you are a student in a private nursing education program, your rights consist of what the academic institution provides you with. As a result, student rights in private programs vary considerably and are spelled out in the student handbook.

Whatever protections surrounding dismissal from the program are granted by the institution must be adhered to. The student handbook becomes the touchstone of how the nursing program handles a dismissal.

The protections accorded by both a public and private post-secondary nursing program apply to you as a student in all nursing education programs at whatever level.

Take advantage of resources

The student who submitted the question asked where she could obtain more information about her rights when dismissed from a program.

The first resource for anyone in this situation would be a nurse attorney or attorney who concentrates his or her practice in education law and who represents students.

Obtaining a consultation as quickly as possible will help determine how to proceed in challenging the dismissal and obtaining legal representation in the dismissal proceedings.

Because the student who submitted her question is in an initial nursing education program, she also could use her membership in the National Student Nurses Association.

Nursing education programs have an obligation to ensure students enrolled in their programs fulfill all requirements of the program, including grade point averages, clinical competencies and adherence to its established student code of conduct.

The programs also have an obligation to adhere to the protections afforded students and to be fair, reasoned and principled when considering a dismissal of a student in its program.


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