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Health & Wellness

Change to Sick Policy Brings BU in Line with Most Colleges

Don’t count on a doctor’s note from Student Health Services to get you out of your assignments.

Health Matters

That big paper’s due tomorrow, and you haven’t started writing. But don’t count on a doctor’s note to get out of the assignment.

Student Health Services has discontinued the practice of giving students notes excusing them from class because of illness, effective this month. SHS staff will instead give students a receipt for their visit to the health center — a practice employed in many doctors’ offices.

In a letter to faculty, SHS director David McBride requests that professors stop asking students to obtain medical excuse passes from SHS for classes missed. He says that many students have relied on the passes as a way to get out of classes and exams, even when they were not ill.

McBride says that students took advantage of the old policy. “Often students would come in a week later, when feeling well, saying that they needed a note for last week’s missed class,” he says. “We want students to come when they need medical care, not just for the purpose of getting a note to miss class.”

Under the new policy, SHS will give students a written record of their visit. When a student is hospitalized or has suffered a major illness, SHS, with the student’s consent, will help notify his school or college. The center will also provide documentation when its treatment plan recommends class absences, which is rare.

The new policy reflects the center’s commitment to patient confidentiality and its role in educating students about appropriate use of health care, among other things, McBride states in his letter to faculty. “We believe that it is important that students and faculty resolve concerns that arise when illness interferes with academics with appropriate honesty and trust.”

The new policy “puts the onus on our adult students to responsibly make decisions about missing class,” says McBride, adding that faculty response has been mostly positive. “Many faculty considered the old policy to be a lot like high school and demeaning to adult students.”

The change in policy, which was made in consultation with Provost David Campbell and school and college deans across campus, brings Boston University in line with standard college health practices and with neighboring universities and colleges. McBride refers to a recent survey of educational institutions across the country showing that 90 of the 98 schools responding use the system BU is adopting.

“BU is one of very few universities that had such a policy still around,” McBride says. “Probably 5 percent or less of schools still ask for ‘doctor’s notes.’”

Meghan Noé can be reached at mdorney@bu.edu.