A Proposal for Evaluating Student Medical Excuses

by Jeffrey Rosenthal and Dr. Louella Lobo, March 2020

Universities and colleges have to deal with the question of when students should be excused from required tests or assignments for medical reasons.

Ideally, we would simply trust students to be honest about their situation, but this is not always guaranteed. (For example, a few years ago a student told me he missed my midterm due to getting in a car accident and needing to wait for the police to arrive and fill out their report. I agreed this was a valid excused, and asked for a copy of the police report. He didn't reply, and instead immediately dropped the course, presumably because there was actually no accident or report after all.) And, it is unfair to the honest students if the dishonest ones are given unlimited undeserved accommodations.

So, instead, schools usually require students to get a form filled in by a medical doctor in order to get excused. This system has numerous disadvantages:

We thus propose a different system. The school should set up a designated video call center to deal with student medical requests. The call center could be staffed by e.g. nurse practitioners or physician assistants, and confidentiality would be assured. Then, if a student is too ill or injured to complete a test or assignment, then they should initiate a video chat (e.g. Skype) with the center and explain their situation. The center can then make a judgement about whether or not a medical excuse is warranted. They could base this on their assessment of the student's medical condition, plus any additional evidence or documentation they wish to request, in addition to the student's past excuse requests.

Admittedly, this new center would cost the school. However, it would save a tremendous amount of money from the public medical system, so governments would have incentive to fund such centers. In addition, this new system would have numerous other advantages:

Overall, we feel that this new system would be better for doctors, better for professors, and more fair and consistent for students. We hope that schools adopt this system today!


Comments and feedback welcome.