Abuse concerns drive medical note reform

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Does the thought of exams bring about a mysterious tummy ache or a sudden cough? Before you get a bogus doctor’s note, consider some new policies being reviewed by the Senate Committee for Academic Policy and Awards.

Though proposed reforms on the issue go back over seven years, SCAPA and Western administration would like to see a medical excuse slip policy that is “fair for all students,” according to associate dean in the Faculty of Arts and Humanities Michael Milde, who also chairs SCAPA.

“Recently, due to changes with federal freedom of information policies, [SCAPA has ensured] that medical notes are kept with the student’s faculty’s dean’s office in accordance with provincial legislation,” Milde said.

“We’d like to continue [reforms] with a notion of clarity and to ensure we have a fair policy for all students across the board,” Milde said. “[The current policy is] too vague. It doesn’t specify what is required for academic accommodation to be granted. It says documentation is required, but doesn’t really require anything else.”

Milde also cited an impromptu study conducted by Dr. Margaret Kellow, associate dean academic of social science, where about 70 medical excuse slips were filed in two randomly selected first-year classes. Of these 70 notes, about 80 per cent came from one walk-in clinic and one doctor.

At the Oxford Medical Walk-in Clinic, getting a doctor’s note for academic purposes is a simple process.

Nikki, the clinic’s manager who did not want his last name used, explained the steps a student would need to go through.

“[A student should] come in with [his or her] health card, discuss [his or her] problem with a doctor and explain why [he or she] needs a note and the doctor will write one.”

Due to these problems, SCAPA is currently looking to amend the policy, possibly with a new form for students, which would give doctors a standardized process to evaluate the health of the student, Milde explained.

David Simmonds, University Students’ Council’s VP-university affairs, promised the USC would not be silent on the issue, but stressed the need for the organization to come down on the right side of it.

“We want to make sure that all students are fairly provided with medical accommodation when they need it,” Simmonds said. “We’re looking at the proposed changes quite closely.”

With regards to Dr. Kellow’s informal study, Simmonds quipped: “We begin to wonder if the system is being abused or do 70 students in one class all get sick at the same time and all of those students happen to see the same doctor?

“That suggests to me an outbreak, which would be a much more serious problem.”

Both stressed the reform process is ongoing and changes will be discussed at the next SCAPA meeting in June.

“We’re not bringing this policy forward yet because we’re still in talk with various constituencies,” Milde said.

Simmonds added the USC appreciates any student feedback on the issue of medical excuse slips.

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