Dealing with student mistreatment


Mistreatment remains, unfortunately, a common complaint in professional schools across the nation. In a 1998 JAMA study, some 72-99% of 1001 medical students surveyed reported some form of harassment or mistreatment from instructors, peers, hospital staff, or patients—this includes verbal, physical, and sexual abuse as well as discrimination based on race, age, ethnicity, gender, and religion.

  • Abuse or mistreatment of any kind has been shown to negatively impact and compromise performance, productivity, and learning in professional and academic environments, and should not be tolerated.
  • Some may say abuse or mistreatment is an inevitable part of a grueling professional training. This kind of apathy and submission, however, will only perpetuate the cycle of abuse and harassment.
  • The cycle of abuse is not unique to medicine—it is seen in other professional and graduate training environments. Community-wide awareness is necessary.
  • Persistent abuse is detrimental to the human spirit and erodes the purpose of the veterinary profession, which is to care for and serve those in need of health care.

UMN CVM prides itself in creating a friendly learning environment. Interaction in a supportive atmosphere is integral. As such, it is important that every generation of students and faculty work purposefully to create and mold this environment with enthusiasm.

What is Mistreatment?

Mistreatment may be defined as behavior or actions that show disrespect towards the dignity of others and unreasonably interferes with the learning process. Disrespectful behaviors which include abuse, harassment, and discrimination are inherently destructive to the student/teacher relationship and not tolerated at the UMN CVM.

Abuse refers to treating others in a harmful, injurious or offensive way. It may include pressuring others into performing personal services, attacking someone verbally with insults, unnecessarily humiliating or speaking unjustly about an individual. It also includes emotional abuse through the creation of an unnecessarily hostile environment, physical assaults, or unwanted sexual advances or request for services in exchange for higher grades.

Harassment refers to verbal or physical conduct that creates an intimidating, hostile work or learning environment in which submission to such conduct is a condition of continuing one’s professional training.

Discrimination is those behaviors, actions, interactions, and policies that have an adverse effect because of disparate treatment, disparate impact, or the creation of a hostile or intimidating work or learning environment due to gender, race, age, sexual orientation or other biases.

Questions to Consider?

  • Am I reasonably certain my situation constitutes abuse? Is there a chance that I misinterpreted the perceived abuser’s statements?
  • Am I being overly sensitive to comments?
  • Did the person say things to intentionally ridicule or humiliate me?
  • Is there some other explanation for a person’s behavior?

Having asked these questions, if you still feel violated or demoralized, it is important not to dismiss the matter and hope it will pass, or think that you are responsible for the mistreatment. Many vet students have an extremely high tolerance for different kinds of treatment, and that includes the abuse that may occur in clinical settings, whether from faculty, residents, interns, peers, hospital staff, or clients. It is thus important remember that respect and professional interactions help preserve student well-being and enthusiasm for vet med.


  • A student who experiences mistreatment is strongly urged to bring the matter to the attention of their course director, rotation coordinator, or the Academic and Student Affairs office. University resources are also available for equity and diversity issues.
  • Discussion and efforts to achieve clarity in the onset and nature of the mistreatment is an important step in resolving the issue.
  • Students should be prepared to document the incident as well as have a clear self- understanding of how to present the matter in a mature, nonjudgmental, and objective way.
  • Remember not to confuse firm feedback meant to assist you with mistreatment.
  • Remember that while mistreatment may occur, it is not the rule.
  • Remember if mistreatment is allowed to continue, it will do so. This is a detriment of an individual student, the vet school and to the veterinary profession as a whole. It is important to put a stop to the cycle.
  • Vetschool unleashed : mean girls (and guys and faculty)


Title IX – Gender Discrimination and Sexual Harassment

Under Title IX of the Education Amendment Act of 1972, the UMN has a responsibility to ensure that students have a learning environment that is free of gender discrimination and sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment is a form of discrimination prohibited by Title IX. If you feel you have been subjected to sexual harassment or discrimination, you should seek assistance as soon as possible.

UMN sexual harrassment reporting link

Final Comments

Vet students will have many opportunities to interact with veterinarians, residents, peers, hospital staff, and clients. In any interaction, UMN CVM students are expected to act professionally and with maturity. Your maturity and respectfulness will be appreciated. The great majority of people you will encounter in vet school will want to foster your learning and help you in any way they can. Recognize, however, that if treatment towards you represents abuse, help is available. Don’t hesitate to seek out your rotation coordinator, Dr. Lee (hospital director), a faculty member in the Office of Academic & Student Affairs, or other resources listed.

People I Can Talk To

  • Dr. Erin Malone, 612-625-4762,
  • Anyone in the Office of Academic and Student Affairs
  • Dr. David Lee (rotations),
  • Other faculty mentors
  • Your rotation coordinator



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Well-being Handbook Copyright © 2019 by Erin Malone is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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