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Junior.doctor's guide to medical school appeals systems

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    Junior.doctor’s guide to medical school appeals

    A few people have PM’d me this year to ask how I managed to successfully appeal against a medical school decision that I should withdraw for the course. Hopefully not many of you will actually need to use this, but for the few of you that will, I thought it might be generally useful information to have out there.

    If you’ve received news from your medical school that you’ve failed a resit / more than one resit and are thus required to withdraw from the course, this feels devastating. Allow yourself sometime to take this in, and to look back, and try to work out what went wrong. It’s the sort of time when you just want to crawl under your duvet and shut the world out, and you need to do that for a bit. It’s tough to tell family and friends what’s happened, especially if friends are fellow medics, but you need to tell someone who can be sympathetic.

    When can I appeal?
    There are usually two reasons that you can appeal.
    [1] Procedural irregularity – this basically means that something went wrong with the actual carrying out of the exam and its marking. Note that for undergraduate exams this does NOT include disagreeing with the mark you have been given. It’s usually something like they forgot to include your in-course assessment marks, or you feel that there was something objectively unfair about the exam such as a protest going on outside the window, or a page of your exam paper missing…

    [2] Retrospective mitigation – this is what the vast majority of people appeal with. You need to know that this is becoming increasing very difficult to achieve successfully, as you have to have a very good reason why you are submitting mitigation in retrospect, and why this could not have been submitted before the published mitigation deadline. Universities are these days very very good at advertising their mitigation policies, what you need to do, the deadlines, and at reiterating that ANYTHING that you think may have adversely affected your exam performance, should be submitted before the deadline. (Those of you who are reading this through morbid curiosity about appeals take heed of this advice – far too many people STILL end up with a failed resit saying “well I was wondering about submitting mitigation but I thought the exam went ok so I didn’t bother”. It doesn’t matter if you thought the exam went ok or not. Submit it anyway. If it turns out you passed, then that’s fine, you just won’t need to use the mitigation. Some people worry that if they then pass, they won’t know whether it was of their own back or due to mitigation boosting their grades – mitigation doesn’t work this way – it almost always means that if you fail the exam, you are allowed one further attempt, not that they well boost your mark and pass you. It is so much more pain-free to submit that mitigation beforehand, than to be contemplating an appeal and being chucked out of medical school)

    Some people try to submit appeals anyway even if their mitigation could have been prospective, as ‘they’ve got nothing to lose’, and I would agree with the latter part of that – but nonetheless you need to prepare yourself for the fact that it’s going to be a very tough one to fight and may not succeed.

    Unfortunately, the appeals system has specific dates and deadlines which are uni-wide for each exam cycle, these normally come round pretty soon after the exam results are published, and must be adhered to, so start looking at these as soon as possible, and not more than a couple of days after your results.

    Most appeals systems involve you submitting a form including a written statement with your reason for appealing, accompanied by appropriate evidence backing this up. This is submitted centrally to the university, who will forward it to your school for consideration. The medical school will convene a panel to consider your appeal. At this stage, they can either accept your appeal (well done!) or they can reject it at ‘school’ level, which means that it goes to an oral hearing, at which you are expected to attend (usually with a representative). Most appeals will go to a hearing. After the hearing, a final decision is made. There are further stages in the appeals process (higher up in the uni) – but realistically very few people pursue those routes once the appeal has been unsuccessful.


    In the first couple of days after the results:

    [1] Look back – what went wrong? Be honest with yourself – did you work hard enough? Did you leave enough time to revise? Was there anything that adversely affected your performance? Should or could you have submitted this in advance? Can you come up with a good reason why you didn’t? Do you have contemporaneous evidence?

    [2] Look at your year’s ‘schedule of assessment’ – check that their progress decision agrees with this (i.e. if it’s a borderline fail check that there aren’t any compensation systems they’ve not taken into account, sometimes you can compensate a borderline fail with a good pass elsewhere –but this is well advertised if you can. Check that if it’s resit failure = required to withdraw, that this is clearly explained in the schedule of assessment).

    [3] Investigate your university’s appeal system. Usually, the uni has a responsibility to include details of your right to appeal and how to investigate this further, with your results. If you can’t find it there, look on the uni intranet / student support areas. Get a clear idea of the dates and deadlines, what’s required of you at each stage, what might happen at each stage (submitting evidence, consideration by your school,

    [4] Try to get a meeting with a tutor – ideally someone you know. This can be particularly tough in first year when you’ve not really run into problems before and therefore haven’t really got to know any tutors properly. Some unis have mandatory meetings with year tutors for those who’ve failed. Talk through your options, including grounds for appeal. Year tutors can often be frustrating ‘neutral’ at this point rather than seeming supportive – often because they’ve sat on the exam board that made the decisions. But they’re often the most knowledgeable from a appeals system perspective. Tutor group tutors are often doctors or scientists who are less knowledgeable about the procedural workings but much more able to offer general support.

    [5] Start getting your evidence together. Every appeal needs evidence. For most people, this will be a doctor’s letter, or possibly a death certificate. Go to see your doctor early. Particularly if you’re registered with a university practice that sees a lot of students – do not underestimate just how many students will be doing the same thing, the doctors will get swamped with requests and this can take a week. Choose your doctor carefully – hopefully this is something you’ll have seen them about before, but if you’ve had experience with a few of the different doctors, you’re bound to know which ones are briskly efficient and which ones are a little more empathetic and likely to look more favourably on you. Their evidence could make or break your application. If your uni has a specific ‘sick form’ that also ahs to be signed alongside a letter of evidence, make sure that you take it with you to get it signed.

    [6] Make an appointment to see a student advisor / student support person at the uni – there are usually advisors who deal specifically with appeals. These people were invaluable to me, they were so experienced and their advice was realistic. If anything is unclear, they’re able to explain the system to you including who is allowed to attend and accompany you at various stages. They’re also able to look through statements and offer constructive advice. For example, I really hated explaining how what had happened had affected me, spelling it out. But they were very clear that without this information, it wasn’t enough to just say ‘xyz happened and this was why I couldn’t tell you before’ – you have to spell out unequivocally the effect it had on you and how this interfered with your studies and exam attempt. You’ll find that they won’t usually speculate on chances of success (even though they’ve been to enough appeals that they can probably tell) but they might tell you whether in their opinion your grounds for appeal are reasonable.

    If your uni’s appeal system has remit for someone attending a hearing with you, this is usually someone who is a member of the uni –either a fellow student, or a member of staff. Realistically, the best person to come with you is someone from the student advisory dept – simply because they are so experienced at the appeals system, they’ll be able to support you on the day and explain things to you, as well as being the most effective advocate.

    [7] Other evidence – this might be harder if you’re in first year, but try to think of anyone who knows you at medical school – particularly a GP if you’ve done any GP attachments in preclinical. For people in later years, it’s worth commenting on your previous academic record in your statement, e.g. if you successfully intercalated, and highlight if this is the first time in X years that you have fallen foul of The System with an otherwise unblemished progress record. Some students get people to write statements of support for them (such as clinical tutors). My uni’s standard advice to tutors was not to do this, and it’s not necessarily going to improve your chances, but it won’t harm them either.

    [7] Submit EVERYTHING by the published deadlines. Keep copies. Hand deliver to the appropriate person and get a receipt, or post by recorded delivery.

    [8] If you have to go to a hearing – treat it like an interview in terms of dress etiquette. Suit, get rid of the pink hair, etc. Make sure you are completely familiar with the statement you wrote – it’ll often have been several weeks since you wrote it. Rehearse it till you know it inside out. Go in there with an attitude of humility, show you’ve reflected carefully on where things went wrong this time and how you’ll avoid this happening again. Meet with the person accompanying you beforehand so you’re both clear on everything. Make sure you know who to expect at the panel (as in, the number of people and their likely standing within the university – will it be ten professors and the dean, or four lesser tutors?) if there is anything specific / standard that is expected of you (such as summarizing your statement verbally) – make sure you know this. If you can, try to see the room in advance – all helps the whole thing to be less intimidating.

    Finally, take time to consider your options, and what you might do if the appeal is unsuccessful. Be realistic and know that unless you have really good grounds for appeal, the system is tough and it may not succeed. Good luck. Appeals are very tough, and you’re having to be incredibly organized and efficient right at a time when you’ve had some horrible news of exam failure and having to withdraw from uni. Take support from those around you.

    My story – I failed a fourth year resit exam. I successfully appealed against a decision to withdraw from the university, with retrospective mitigation. I had clear reasons why it had to be submitted retrospectively (I was taking a medication for a physical illness over 3 months which had well documented significant side effects which I only really noticed had affected me when I stopped taking the medication two weeks after my resit and suddenly felt so much better). This was corroborated by my resit mark being 10% lower than my first attempt, with clear proof that I had worked hard for the resit. The best help and advice I received was not from the medical school but from the student advisory system at the student union. I managed to get a letter from my GP (they had prescribed me the medication in the first place so had this and all the dates on record) although unfortunately managed to land myself an appointment with a particularly unsympathetic locum GP whose evidence letter was not good. Thankfully, due to being in 4th year, I had a bunch of evidence that I had intercalated successfully with a 2:1, had never fallen foul of The System before (I’d had resits but always passed them). I also had a lot of support from other tutors in the med school who knew me well due to my involvement as a student rep. Thankfully, the combination of my reasonable grounds for appeal, the fact that I DID have evidence (even though it was a rubbish letter and not particularly supportive, it was at least factual where it mattered), and the support I received from medical school tutors who knew me as an individual, meant that my appeal was successful at the ‘school review’ level, and didn’t have to go to a hearing. I was allowed a third attempt at the failed exam (and got 85%, ha. First and last time I ever got 85% in anything at medical school. I think that proved sufficiently to them that I had worked hard!) At my med school at that time, Finals were taken at stages throughout the final year, which meant that you could start in November and graduate the following Dec, rather than the trad June to June. Not graduating with my cohort in June was horrible, but at least I knew that I was still on track to get there, and get there I did
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    Somebody should make this a sticky!
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    junior doctor, thank you so much for writing this. Your determination, your commitment and your personal strength is admirable.
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    awesome, thanks!
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    I just wanted to say that I was also successful with my appeal and didn't need to go to a hearing and this advice helped a lot! Thank-you. All I'd say is that I had no idea just how LONG the process would take. After submitting my appeal in September I heard nothing back until the very end of October and by the sounds of it I was lucky to hear that quickly. It may not sound long, but it is horrible! Also, if you go to hearing you have to wait even longer for a verdict.
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    Committment and dedication - you deserve it!
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    Wish I'd seen this before! I failed one exam out of eight and failed my retake by 1 mark, and appealing was a confusing process which I had little advice about. Luckily I was successful but I am having to retake first year, so everyone should be aware that progressing into the next year is not the usual result!
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    i am in this situation now, withdrawn from first year med due to failing one of my re-sits and now i am trying to appeal but the uni isn't very helpful when it comes to looking through my appeal draft. I have evidence from the doctor and other professionals. I know what went wrong and i ve tried writing it on my appeal. Any advice on what i should have in my appeal letter? any advice would be much appreciated. Thanks
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    I am currently studying biology, chemistry, maths and physics for my a levels. Do you think I would be at a disadvantage if I study biology, chemistry, psychology and maths?

    Posted from TSR Mobile
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    (Original post by Sade_101)
    I am currently studying biology, chemistry, maths and physics for my a levels. Do you think I would be at a disadvantage if I study biology, chemistry, psychology and maths?

    Posted from TSR Mobile
    No, you won't be

    Posted from TSR Mobile
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    Dear Junior.Doctor,

    Thank you so much for your advice on this forum. You have helped me evaluate what's important in my life and have helped save my career at a time when I felt like the world was against me. For that I thank you. Onwards and upwards.

    Sincerely,
    An almost flunkie med student
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    Dear Gratefulmedic,
    I submitted my appeal two weeks ago and am still waiting anxiously to hear from uni. would you mind sharing with me how you managed to get a quick response, your grounds for appealing and a good reason for not submitting the evidence earlier?
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    hi, i know this is a post from ages ago, but this is the only thread i could find related to my situation. I did my third year, and failed osce both first attempt and resit. I didnt give any mitigating ciircumstances but then i appealed the case. are there any chances i can progress into fourth year without having to retake third year?
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    Reading and hearing about people who have won their appeals, it seems to me that most medical schools are obliged to give students their places back if they have had one attempt at the year (i.e. everyone is entitled to resit the whole year). I've failed 3rd year twice in a row (due to the OSCE) and I'm now appealing to keep my place, but my chances don't look good. It could take several months before I hear anything and the staff have been very rude, dismissive and unsupportive as well as giving me no feedback at all about where I went wrong. So I'm getting the student union and the BMA involved to hopefully build a good defence against this stupid uni - a disgusting place in a **** city, both of which I now hate immensely. But if there's any chance of me staying in the UK to finish Medicine instead of going abroad, I would (reluctantly) take it. Having been blacklisted by every other medical school in the UK who forbid transfers from failed students like me, it's really demoralising to be left behind and constantly pushed back another year, then another, away from graduation as well as losing a place to intercalate 2 years in a row. As some foreign medical schools are 6-year courses, they could require me to complete another 4 years (instead of 3) which is just way too long for me to imagine myself finishing successfully. I'm at a huge crossroads with regards to getting a degree in Medicine and whether or not I even want to do the job afterwards. I'm angry, upset and completely furious at how my life has gone downhill so quickly when I was scoring above 75% in every mock exam but couldn't be given a pass when doing the same performances on the same stations on the real OSCE. I feel cheated and I have no idea if this is just exclusive to my university or whether it's the same in Medicine everywhere.

    Anyway, I'm not gonna listen to any more talk about "you didn't work hard enough", "you were too lazy" and "you're not meant to be a doctor". What I'm here to find out is how good my chances could be for getting this place back. Does anyone know any success stories of students who have done a year of Medicine 3 times and still managed to graduate eventually? I know other students in my year have been gossipping that I'm thick because I failed the "easiest" OSCE in Medicine and wouldn't stand a chance in 4th/5th year so maybe I should quit this course while I'm ahead and get out of this **** while I still can. But I'm not going down without a fight and I'll show them all that they made the biggest mistake ever by kicking me out. Realistically I know my chances are not as good as someone appealing after failing a year once - but is there anything else I should consider in order to increase the chances of success for my appeal?

    Thanks in advance for any advice.
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    (Original post by asif007)
    Thanks in advance for any advice.
    Sorry to hear about your situation.
    I've never heard of someone having a third attempt at a year, but that doesn't mean it's never happened. To be entirely honest with you, I think it's unlikely you'll be allowed to have a third try at third year, but at the same time you have nothing to lose by trying except time and the stress of the appeal. it's sounds as though you've been doing all the right things so far, and getting the BMA etc involved is a good idea.

    Your appeal needs to clearly state what went wrong, in detail, backed up with contemporaneous evidence. Be specific. You're going to have to think very carefully about how you're going to justify what has happened over the past 2 years, and how you are going to make sure that any further attempt will be different, lessons you've learned etc. No matter how much you are angry / frustrated with the powers that be, remember that you will have to hide that and show a lot of humility, willingness to put your hands up and be honest about mistakes and how things will be better. How they perceive your attitude is really important (ie it's ok to be angry about the situation outside of the appeal panel situation, but in that panel, honesty and humility reign supreme).
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    (Original post by junior.doctor)
    Sorry to hear about your situation.
    I've never heard of someone having a third attempt at a year, but that doesn't mean it's never happened. To be entirely honest with you, I think it's unlikely you'll be allowed to have a third try at third year, but at the same time you have nothing to lose by trying except time and the stress of the appeal. it's sounds as though you've been doing all the right things so far, and getting the BMA etc involved is a good idea.

    Your appeal needs to clearly state what went wrong, in detail, backed up with contemporaneous evidence. Be specific. You're going to have to think very carefully about how you're going to justify what has happened over the past 2 years, and how you are going to make sure that any further attempt will be different, lessons you've learned etc. No matter how much you are angry / frustrated with the powers that be, remember that you will have to hide that and show a lot of humility, willingness to put your hands up and be honest about mistakes and how things will be better. How they perceive your attitude is really important (ie it's ok to be angry about the situation outside of the appeal panel situation, but in that panel, honesty and humility reign supreme).
    Thanks for your advice. I've submitted an appeal already as the deadline was back in August but the response completely ignored the description of all my mitigating circumstances (won't go into a lot of detail here) and basically said that I am forbidden to continue at this uni regardless of everything that's happened to me in the last 2 years. I'm still completely in the dark about how this process works as the appeals office have not been very helpful, and all I know at this point is that my appeal has been forwarded to a university disputes committee for consideration. Apparently I'm appealing to the whole university instead of just the medical school. But once it gets to a hearing (hopefully it should) then I know I need to show some humility despite how angry I am. I could use some practice at putting on the right attitude under intense questioning as that would help. I know my chances are pretty bad but TBH I've had such a hard time that I only want to continue Medicine to finish what I started and get a degree under my belt. I've wasted so many years of my life pursuing Medicine and got nothing to show for it, so I don't care about a bit of extra time and stress pursuing this appeal despite the poor chances of success. I refuse to let them take away my basic right to progress on the course. Despite the ignorant ******* saying that I've learned nothing in 2 years, I do have the knowledge and skills to get past 3rd year.

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