Help with fitness to practice issues

Students on professional courses (for example medicine, teaching, social work) may be aware of the fitness to practice procedures associated with their course. These are all about ensuring that a student is making satisfactory progress in terms of acquiring and demonstrating the skills, knowledge, health and character needed to work in their chosen profession safely and effectively, and to adhere to the Codes of Standards which apply to that particular profession. A fitness to practice issue will potentially arise whenever the student's Department has information (either from the student or another source) which calls this into question.

The Advice team can offer advice and assistance on fitness to practice issues. We can guide you through the procedure, help you work out how best to put forward your point of view, help draft any written responses or submissions which may be required, and accompany you to meetings or hearings.

BSMS Students

Please be aware: The fitness to practice procedure for BSMS medical students is administered by Brighton University under their regulations, therefore we are unable to advise BSMS students in detail about this issue. Please contact Brighton University Students Union for assistance.

Things to think about

  • Firstly don't panic! Many students who are affected by a fitness to practice issues go on to successfully complete their course and qualify for their chosen profession.
  • Don't delay getting in touch with us for help. The earlier in the process you contact us, the more effective the help we can offer will probably be for you.
  • Social Work and Education Departments both have detailed information regarding their fitness procedures in their respective course handbooks-- ask your school administration office if you do not have access to these.
  • Typically, the procedure will be split into two levels, with the first level generally involving an initial discussion of the issue & relevant information with a Course Lead or similar person, and the second level (for issues judged to be more serious) involving a more formal panel hearing. If you are not sure where you are in the procedure, ask your tutor or academic adviser to explain this to you.
  • Ensure that your Department has supplied you with copies of relevant correspondence and evidence. These should help you to understand why a fitness issue has been raised, and precisely what the Department's concerns are regarding your practice or general conduct.
  • Make a note of anything you don't understand, or don't agree with, in the information you are given. If you feel that this gives an incomplete picture of the circumstances surrounding the fitness issue, or if it somehow misrepresents things from your perspective, then think about what additional information you would like the Department to consider.
  • Have a look in detail at the relevant professional Codes associated with your course (for example, the HCPC Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics which apply to social work and health care professionals). Make a note of any sections which you think may apply to your situation, and any concepts covered in the Codes which may be relevant. Remember: Your development and practice is supposed to be informed and guided by the Code relevant to your profession, therefore your Department will expect you to have regard to these documents when you are thinking about your fitness issue. They will be keen to explore whether you have a good understanding of relevant concepts covered in your Code and that you can appreciate how they may relate to your situation.
  • Try not to think of your fitness issue purely in terms of who may be 'at fault' for what happened. Remember, the expectation will be that you can dispassionately reflect on any situation you encounter, and treat it as a learning experience for you, even if you feel that you have not really done anything wrong. It is OK to highlight instances where other peoples' practice may have fallen short of what could be expected, and even possible organisational failings on the part of the University or placement organisations if you feel that these are relevant to the fitness issue. However, always try to combine this with consideration of the part that your actions or conduct may have played in the situation:
    • How do you imagine these may have made others feel?
    • How did the situation make you feel? In hindsight, how far might this have coloured your perception or influenced your decisions?
    • What can you take from the situation which could help you become a better practitioner?
    • If you were faced with the same circumstances again, what might you do differently to ensure that your (and other peoples') practice & conduct best refects your profession's standards and ethics?
  • Be honest- remember that your Department doesn't expect you to be the finished article, particularly if you are a first or second-year student, but they do expect you to demonstrate honesty and integrity regarding your practice & learning. Don't be tempted to try to 'hide' aspects of your situation. If you are anxious about disclosing something to your Department then you can discuss this with us in confidence first.
  • Remember that your activity on social media can reflect your ethics, practice & character just as much as what happens in University or on placement. The fact that you may have intended postings to be private will not absolve you from responsibility if these accidentally become public.
  • Academic misconduct allegations (plagiarism, exam cheating etc) can sometimes be considered as fitness issues if they are judged to call into question your ethics or character. Talk to us about this if you have a case of academic misconduct.
  • Above all, you need to be showing in your response to the fitness proceedings that you understand what your profession expects from you, that you have insight, and that you can meaningfully and appropriately reflect.

Possible outcomes to fitness to practice proceedings

Obviously, the outcome to a fitness case mainly depends on the specific facts of the case and the response and attitude of the student. Outcomes can include:

  • A finding that, after due consideration, a student's situation does not, in fact, raise any fitness concerns.
  • A 'warning' about future conduct.
  • A direction to seek appropriate support from a GP, counsellor, Occupational Health or other Univesity service.
  • A decision to to 'park' an issue at level one of the procedure for a period to give the student an opportunity to demonstrate their fitness, with a subsequent review of their progress (sometimes this may require them to implement suggested improvements to their practice, or to write a reflective essay which evidences knowledge & understanding of relevant course concepts or aspects of the Code).
  • At the more serious end of things, a 'level 2' panel can decide to recommend to the relevant professional body that a student's registration to practice should be withheld, either on a temporary or permanent basis. (This rarely happens but it is a potential outcome if a student's fitness is seriously called into question by the facts of their case).

Examples of fitness to practice issues we have helped with

Here is a list of some of the issues we have encountered which have been considered under the University's fitness to practice procedures:

  • Substance misuse issues
  • Students who enter into relationships with placement managers
  • Students who allow their (non-student) partner to access & use their placement work phone
  • Repeated unprofessional behaviour on placement (taking service user case notes out of the office when placement procedures restrict this, timekeeping issues, failure to keep placement managers informed of concerns regarding service users, failure to meaningfully engage with placement supervision opportunities, etc).
  • Falsification of placement supervision documents.
  • Putting derogatory or sensitive comments about placement managers on a social media group seen by other students.
  • A student developing a health condition which, despite appropriate workplace adjustments, prevented them from safely practising.
  • Student shouting and swearing at a service user when restraining techniques were not working.
  • A student whose (non-work) social media profile was judged to be inappropriate due to being sexually suggestive.

Here to help

If you'd like to discuss your concern further, our Student Advice team are here to help. Our service is confidential and independent from the University.

Student Advice, 1st Floor, Falmer House, University of Sussex.