By Steve Silva
Twenty-five dollars and a short visit to the doctor could have students sitting comfortably at home instead of writing a midterm. Doctors’ notes — the kind that allow students to miss class with no academic penalty — are easy to obtain.
An Eyeopener reporter visited The Doctors Office in the Atrium on Bay. After showing an OHIP card, complaining about an average headache and paying a fee of $25, he walked out with a sick note. It took less than an hour.
“What we have is a big problem,” said Donna Bell, Ryerson’s academic integrity officer. “For false documents submitted, I have seen the penalties range from an F in the course all the way to expulsion depending on what was falsified.”
However, many documents presented to professors are 100 per cent authentic — written and signed by accredited doctors. Bell said the bigger dilemma at Ryerson isn’t the fabricated notes, but the abuse of authentic excuse notes to get out of exams and assignments.
Problem is, some doctors are taking advantage of lazy students to make a quick and easy buck for their clinics.
Alicia Condon, a second-year criminal justice student, heard stories about the easy access to doctor’s notes last year from classmates. And when she needed one herself, she found it to be a simple process. “It was really easy, you pretty much pay and go.”
When Condon saw her doctor, she complained of a headache and body pains. Condon said that even minor complaints could get you a free pass to your sofa. “You don’t have to have any serious illness; you don’t have to go to the hospital. Pretty much just pay, tell them what’s wrong, they write it down, and they give you the note. And then it’s easy sailing.”
But even with easy access to them, Condon said she’s only used sick notes once or twice.
Diane Schulman, secretary of senate, said Ryerson faculty and administration rely on the doctor to correctly fill out Ryerson’s medical form. The form includes questions about the severity of the illness and the student’s capacity while ill and it determines the consideration a student will receive from a professor.
“A Ryerson degree is based upon integrity and I would hope that students only ask for medical documentation when they have been ill,” said Schulman. Students found to have submitted a false medical document, or to have lied, can be charged under the Code of Academic Conduct.
Neil Thomlinson, chair of politics and public administration, said students who take advantage of the system and doctors who help them do it are equally at fault. Thomlinson added that students who genuinely need sick notes will suffer because of their dishonest peers.
“[When] a system gets abused… the people who legitimately should be benefitting from the system end up being get caught in the crossfire when the clamps come down,” he said.
Philosophy prof Elizabeth Trott said she tries to make in-class assignments as least frightening as possible to deter students from creating excuses to not attend. However, with sick notes being so readily available for students, she is considering toughening up.
“I’ve been innocent and naïve about being able to purchase doctors’ notes … if this route is available then, yeah, I’m going to send a message. My expectations will be considerably more,” Trott said. Still, Thomlinson said he personally doesn’t receive many sick notes and that it isn’t his biggest concern.
Vicky (last name withheld), an administrative assistant at a Toronto walk-in clinic, said sick notes aren’t easy to get at her office. She said the doctors at her clinic will provide a sick note only if they have seen the patient before and know their medical history. Furthermore, she said that many professors from Toronto universities “call in to make sure that the patient is really sick.”