Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
MD Education

Safe and Healthy Learning Environment


The Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine is committed to the principle that educational relationships should be one of mutual respect between teacher and learner. Because the school trains individuals who are entrusted with the lives and well-being of others, we have unique responsibilities to assure that students, residents and fellows learn as members of a community of scholars in an environment that is conducive to learning.

Feinberg wants to encourage students, residents and fellows to bring attention to any breach or perceived breach of the Safe and Healthy Learning Environment and wishes to be open about the process the university has in place should such a claim be made. This process flow document offers a snapshot of our reporting, escalation and resolution procedures related to a perceived mistreatment claim. The school also offers an ombudsperson for student, resident and fellow support. Learn more below.

 I. INTRODUCTION

Maintaining a safe and healthy learning environment requires that the faculty, administration, residents, fellows, healthcare professionals, staff and students treat each other with the respect due colleagues. All teachers should realize that students, residents and fellows depend on them for evaluations and references, which can advance or impede their career development. Teachers must take care to judiciously exercise this power and to maintain fairness of treatment, avoiding exploitation or the perception of mistreatment and exploitation. The quality and worth of a Feinberg School of Medicine education rest not only in the excellence of the content and the skills that are taught, but also in the example provided to students, residents and fellows of humane physicians and scientists who respect their professional colleagues at all career levels, their patients and one another.

 II. RESPONSIBILITIES OF TEACHERS AND LEARNERS

The teacher-learner relationship confers rights and responsibilities up-on both parties. Behaving in a way that embodies the ideal teacher-learner relationship fosters mutual respect, minimizes the likelihood of learner mistreatment and optimizes the educational experience.

Responsibilities of Teachers

  • Treat learners fairly, respectfully and without bias related to their race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, parental or marital status, age, disability, citizenship or veteran status.
  • Distinguish between the Socratic method, where insightful questions are a stimulus to learning and discovery and overly aggressive questioning, where detailed queries are repeatedly presented with the endpoint of belittlement or humiliation of the learner.
  • Give learners timely, constructive and accurate feedback and opportunities for remediation.
  • Provide written evaluations on time.
  • Be prepared and on time for all activities.
  • Provide learners with current material and information and appropriate educational activities.

Responsibilities of Learners

  • Be courteous and respectful of others, regardless of their race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, parental or marital status, age, disability, citizenship or veteran status.
  • A student, resident or fellow should act in accordance with the handbook associated with their educational program.
  • Be prepared and on time for all activities.
  • Be aware of the medical condition and current therapy of patients.
  • Put patients' welfare ahead of educational needs.
  • Know limitations and ask for help when needed.
  • Maintain patient confidentiality.
  • View feedback as an opportunity to improve knowledge and performance skills.
  • Tips on Maintaining a Healthy Learning Environment

 III. DESCRIPTION OF INAPPROPRIATE BEHAVIOR

Inappropriate behaviors are those that are not respectful or professional in a teacher-learner relationship. Examples of inappropriate behaviors which compromise the integrity of the educational process include, but are not limited to:

  • Unwanted physical contact (such as touching, hitting, slapping, kicking, pushing) or the threat of the same;
  • Sexual harassment (see the Northwestern University Policy on Sexual Harassment);
  • Discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, parental or marital status, age, disability, citizenship or veteran status (see the Northwestern University Policy on Discrimination and Harassment);
  • Requiring learners to perform personal chores (e.g., running errands or babysitting);
  • Verbal harassment, including humiliation or belittlement in public or privately (see the Northwestern University Policy on Civility);
  • Use of grading and other forms of assessment in a punitive or self-serving manner;
  • Romantic or sexual relationships between a teacher and student, resident or fellow (see the Northwestern University Policy on Consensual Romantic or Sexual Relationships Between Faculty, Staff and Students).

The list above identifies a few specific situations. See Mistreatment Examples for further examples. Other behaviors may qualify as mistreatment and, if the student, resident or fellow is unsure, s/he should consult with the appropriate faculty or university officials as detailed in Section V.

 IV. RETALIATION

The university and the medical school prohibit the taking of any retaliatory action for reporting or inquiring about alleged improper or wrongful activity. For further details, see the Northwestern University Policy on Non-retaliation.

 V. WHAT TO DO IF YOU BELIEVE INAPPROPRIATE BEHAVIOR OR MISTREATMENT HAS OCCURRED

While we believe that professional behavior is generally practiced and respected by the members of our diverse community of scholars throughout Feinberg, we recognize there may be occasions when real or perceived incidents of unprofessional behavior directed toward learners occur. In these circumstances, Feinberg is committed to establishing the facts through a fair process, which respects, to the extent possible, the privacy of the involved parties.

A complaint should be reported in a timely fashion, typically within 30 days of the end of an academic quarter or the clinical rotation in which the alleged incident occurred (although claims of discrimination can be reported at any time). Depending upon the nature of the complaint, different avenues of reporting are available. Residents and fellows at the McGaw Medical Center of
Northwestern University should follow this pathway
Our approach and process for addressing complaints from medical students are outlined below, illustrated inAppendix A and described in more detail in Section VII.

To provide students, residents and fellows with an impartial initial point of contact, a faculty ombudsperson is available for students, residents and fellows to contact FSMombuds@northwestern.edu. Alternative contacts are the student, resident or fellow’s college mentor or another faculty member with whom the student, resident or fellow feels comfortable discussing the incident. These individuals can either help address the concern directly or help with referral to an appropriate office or individual who is best suited to address the problem. 

If after discussion of the incident, the student, resident or fellow and faculty point of contact agree that particular events could constitute mistreatment, the incident can be addressed as described below. If the incident involves sexual harassment or sexual violence or assault, the student, resident or fellow will be referred to the University Sexual Harassment Prevention Office for further discussion and investigation. If the incident involves other types of discrimination or discriminatory harassment, the student, resident or fellow will be referred to the University Office of Equal Employment Opportunity and Access for further discussion and investigation.

If the incident does not fall into either of these categories, a first choice, where appropriate, is to seek informal resolution. This may be achieved through direct communication between the student, resident or fellow and/or faculty point of contact and the respondent (individual being reported by the student, resident or fellow) or, potentially, other avenues of communication. If an informal approach is either not appropriate or unsuccessful, then the student, resident or fellow should make a formal complaint with the Vice Dean for Education.

If the incident does not involve sexual harassment or other types of discrimination or discriminatory harassment and the student, resident or fellow and faculty point of contact disagree that the incident was mistreatment, the student, resident or fellow may pursue the matter directly with the Vice Dean for Education. The Vice Dean will pursue the incident as described above. As a first step, the Vice Dean, where appropriate, will seek an informal resolution. If that approach is unsuccessful or not appropriate, the Vice Dean will ask the student, resident or fellow to submit a formal complaint.

Students, residents and fellows may always directly contact an office empowered to address specific policies. In cases of possible sexual harassment or sexual assault or violence, the University Sexual Harassment Prevention Office should be contacted at sexual-harassment@northwestern.edu or 847-491-3745.  Additional information related to a student, resident or fellow’s rights and options if they have experienced sexual assault or violence is available on the Title IX resource page. For concerns related to discrimination and harassment, the Office of Equal Opportunity and Access may be contacted at eeo@northwestern.edu or 847-491-7458.

An alternative approach for reporting concerns of any nature is to use EthicsPoint.  EthicsPoint is intended to provide students, residents and fellows and University employees with a simple way to report activities that may involve misconduct or violations of University policy, including academic or research misconduct, conflicts of interest, criminal activity, health or safety issues, fraud, financial improprieties or acts of discrimination, harassment, sexual harassment or retaliation, as well as workplace violence or threats. Reports may be filed online or by calling 866-294-3545. EthicsPoint provides reporters with options to protect their identity. Any suspected problems or complaints reported via EthicsPoint will be reviewed in accordance with current University procedures, including those described in the Faculty Handbook, Staff Handbook and Student Handbook.

 VI. CONFLICTS AND DOCUMENTATION

  • If the Vice Dean for Education is part of the complaint or in any other way has a conflict of interest or the appearance of a conflict of interest, s/he is obligated to remove him or herself from the case during the investigation, and the Dean of the School of Medicine shall appoint someone else to assume responsibility for the complaint.
  • The School of Medicine may act under these procedures, irrespective of possible civil or criminal claims arising out of the same or other events. The Vice Dean for Education, with the concurrence of the Dean of the School of Medicine, after consulting with the Office of the General Counsel, shall determine whether the University shall, in fact, proceed against a respondent who also faces related charges in a civil or criminal complaint. If the University defers proceedings, it may subsequently proceed, irrespective of the time provisions set forth in these procedures.
  • The Vice Dean for Education shall have the authority to take any actions on behalf of the School of Medicine that s/he deems necessary to protect the complainant and/or the respondent or to address other needs or deliberations related to the situation, pending the investigation and resolution of the complaint.

 VII. PROCESS FOR COMPLAINTS HANDLED BY THE VICE DEAN FOR EDUCATION

As described in section V above, students, residents and fellows with concerns related to mistreatment can use the faculty ombudsperson that  is designated specifically for this purpose, college mentors or a trusted faculty member as an initial point of contact. Together with this individual, the student, resident or fellow can decide whether to seek an informal resolution to the problem and/or whether to move forward with a formal complaint.

If the complaint alleges discrimination or sexual harassment, the complaint must be referred to the University Office of Equal Employment Opportunity and Access or the Sexual Harassment Prevention Office, respectively. Complaints brought to the Sexual Harassment Prevention Office or the University Office of Equal Employment Opportunity and Access will be handled using the processes and procedures of these offices, per University protocol and policy. Otherwise, if the student, resident or fellow decides to proceed with a formal complaint of mistreatment, it will be addressed according to the process described below.

The process for addressing formal complaints of mistreatment is as follows:

  • Inquiry into a violation of the standards of conduct committed by any individual, whether or not affiliated with the University, should be initiated by written complaint and filed with the Vice Dean for Education as soon as possible, typically within 30 days of the end of an academic quarter or the clinical rotation in which the alleged incident occurred. A delay in filing may be grounds for rejection of a complaint.
  • The complaint must be detailed and specific and accompanied by appropriate documentation, if available.
  • After receipt of a properly documented complaint, which has been made in good faith, the Vice Dean shall inform the respondent of the nature of the charges. The Vice Dean will also remind the respondent about the non-retaliation policy of the University described above in Section IV.
  • To initiate an investigation, the Vice Dean of Education may follow several paths.  First, the Vice Dean may investigate him/herself.  Second the Vice Dean may delegate the investigation to the Associate Dean for GME (resident/fellow) or the Senior Associate Dean for Medical Education (student).  Finally, the Vice Dean may appoint an investigation committee of not less than three individuals, all of whom shall be faculty members of the School of Medicine but not members of the same department as, or collaborators with, the complainant or respondent.
  • All investigations involving complaints from residents and fellows at the McGaw Medical Center will follow the policies and procedures outlined here.
  • The investigation hall undertake a thorough examination of the charges. Whenever possible, interviews shall be conducted with the complainant and respondent. Interviews may also be conducted with others having information regarding the allegations, if deemed necessary. When appearing, the respondent and the complainant may each be accompanied by a non-attorney adviser. The student, resident or fellow's adviser shall be a School of Medicine faculty member who is not a relative and the respondent's adviser must be a Northwestern University employee who is not a relative. Except in unusual cases, the respondent and the complainant shall not appear at the same time.
  • Following the completion of its investigation, a report summarizing findings of the investigation will be submitted to or created by the Vice Dean for Education (who will share it with the Dean). This report shall describe the policies and procedures under which the investigation was conducted, how and from whom information was obtained, the findings and the basis of the findings and texts or summaries of the interviews conducted by the committee. This report shall ordinarily be submitted to the Vice Dean for Education within 60 days. The entire investigation process shall typically be completed within 90 calendar days of its initiation, unless circumstances warrant a delay. In such cases, the reasons for a delay shall be documented.

 VIII. RESOLUTION FOR COMPLAINTS HANDLED BY THE VICE DEAN FOR EDUCATION

  • If the investigation finds the charges to be unfounded, the matter shall be dropped and the concerned parties shall be informed.

  • If the investigation finds the charges against a respondent to be substantiated, the Dean will notify the following offices:​

    • For a non-faculty employee of the Feinberg School of Medicine or one of its affiliated clinical entities (including but not limited to nursing, housestaff and fellows), the Dean shall inform the Office of Human Resources of the appropriate institution (e.g., Northwestern University, Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Northwestern Medical Faculty Foundation, etc.) or, for a resident or fellow of the McGaw Medical Center of Northwestern University, the Associate Dean for Graduate Medical Education.
    • If charges against a faculty member are substantiated, the Dean will proceed to take whatever actions are appropriate to the seriousness of the offense, in consultation with the Provost and in accordance with University procedures, and which consider the previous record of the respondent. For major offenses by any faculty members, the Dean of the School of Medicine shall determine with the Provost whether there is substantial reason to believe that just cause exists for imposition of a major sanction, e.g., termination of appointment or suspension. Such action will be executed in accordance with the policies and procedures in the Faculty Handbook. For less serious offenses, the Dean of the School of Medicine may impose minor sanctions, as described in the Faculty Handbook. These may include, but are not limited to, removal from a particular project, a letter of reprimand, special monitoring of future work or probation.
  • The respondent shall have access to all established University grievance and appeal procedures, as described in the Faculty Handbook.

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