STUDENT HEALTH SERVICES
POLICY ON CLASS/WORK EXCUSES
Thank you for your interest in finding out about the class excuse policy and procedures here at The University of Memphis. Years ago, Student Health Services (SHS) decided that it would not give class nor work excuses and would not provide medical documentation of illnesses. Therefore, I am happy to provide you with the following explanation.
Prior to that decision, SHS received hundreds of requests from students to provide excuses or documentation of medical visits. The students generally asked for excuses or documentation even before they had discussed their illness with a medical professional or their professors. Many students visited SHS for the express purpose of obtaining a written note; they would not otherwise have needed a doctor’s evaluation (e.g., for simple colds, a typical headache, etc.). This caused an undue burden on our staff since each of these requests required time from receptionists, practitioners, and nursing personnel.
In addition, we discovered that practitioners often had difficulty making assessments regarding the appropriateness of giving an excuse. For example, some students with simple colds would request a medical excuse while others with similar illnesses remained in class and performed well (and the same could be said for work). Since medical personnel remain, by definition the patient’s advocate, we are not in a position of judging motives of patients in an attempt to determine whether any given request for an excuse is valid. Moreover, many requests are made by students who may have been legitimately impaired, but who did not visit a clinician while ill. It is difficult and often impossible to assess the seriousness of a condition retroactively in the absence of signs or symptoms.
Finally, a part of the mission of SHS is to teach appropriate health care consumerism. The practice of providing medical excuses seems to send mixed messages to students about the appropriate use of health care resources.
For faculty members, you may wish to read the following:
A MEDICAL PERSPECTIVE ON ILLNESS
The following information provides a medical perspective on how students deal with the effect of illness on academics. SHS hope it will be useful to faculty in evaluating student requests for special academic treatment.
- We have found that most students want to be cooperative about complying with professors’ expectations of them. In fact, they are often willing to sacrifice their rights to medical confidentiality in order to convince an instructor they were legitimately ill. We encourage faculty to assume that a student is being honest about the need for their requests, unless you have a concrete reason to doubt it.
- All people are not equally equipped to function optimally when ill, even when the illness is minor. One student, while experiencing a headache, may perform adequately on an exam, while another may feel too compromised and may ask, quite legitimately, for an opportunity to make-up the exam.
- Today’s students contend with a variety of personal and/or social problems that may contribute to or be exacerbated by other illnesses. For example, medical problems such as anxiety disorders, depression, panic disorders, attention deficit disorders, and issues of abuse are present on our campus. Such conditions may be exacerbated by other illnesses such as simple upper respiratory infections or by stresses such as project deadlines. In an effort to salvage their dignity or protect their right to keep such conditions confidential, students are more likely to explain that “I had a bad cold” than to say, “I have an anxiety disorder and my bad cold made me have a panic attack.”
- Although college students are generally a healthy population, many students have chronic illnesses and their academic pursuits may be disrupted frequently. Faculty may become suspicious of these students’ motives because the students may ask repeatedly for special arrangements. It can be helpful in such cases to encourage the student to be as open as possible in sharing with you how their condition has been affecting their studies. Together, you may be able to reach a mutual agreement about special arrangements.