Former student sues medical school after dismissal from program

by Danielle Telson

A former School of Medicine and Health Sciences student is suing the University for $2 million in damages, alleging she was unfairly dismissed from a physician’s assistant program just days before completing her degree.

Cyrena Paulin, a 53-year-old who enrolled at GW in August 2007, filed a lawsuit Jan. 19, after she did not receive a diploma due to a failing grade in her final rotation, or practical training course, that prompted her removal from the program, according to court documents.

The failing grade, Paulin said in her complaint, was not administered fairly and was “solely the product of ill-will and malice.”

By fall 2010, Paulin completed all her courses with a 3.27 GPA, except for a final training program, or a preceptorship, according to the court documents.

The month-long preceptorship began in August 2010, but former physician assistant program director Venetia Orcutt assigned Paulin to a rotation program that had never before accepted students, while others were able to self-select their rotations.

Orcutt resigned from her post at the University in November, after students complained she did not offer instruction for two online courses on evidence-based medicine but doled out “A” grades anyway. GW refunded tuition for the courses, but students were permitted to keep their credits based on the idea that they earned them through other program activities and coursework.

Orcutt did not return a request for comment.

According to the documents, Paulin was not supervised or instructed while examining patients, was denied access to computers to complete her work and felt isolated from the rest of the team. She completed much of her work in the hallway and called the environment hostile.

She also said she was “subjected by those around her to humiliating, degrading treatment,” the documents read.

Paulin received a failing grade but was not permitted to retake a rotation like other students or given a reason for the marks, according to the documents.

Court documents show a memo Orcutt wrote, citing Paulin’s clinical evaluation as “sub-standard for a student with one rotation remaining prior to graduation.”

The student received a letter about her planned dismissal Sept. 8, 2010 and appealed the decision in a nine-month process that Paulin claims did not include her witnesses, according to the documents.

“During the review process, GW did not bother to interview any of the persons who Ms. Paulin identified as having witnessed events, including her mistreatment, even though Ms. Paulin had requested that they be consulted concerning what had transpired,” the complaint reads.

The $2 million in damages would compensate for Paulin’s tuition, the lost year of her career and the difference in the annual salary of an individual with a physician’s degree compared to someone without a degree.

Seann Malloy, Paulin’s attorney, said his client tried to settle her claim during the appeals process.

"Ms. Paulin did not want to have to file a lawsuit. This is the last thing she wanted to do," Malloy said.

University spokeswoman Michelle Sherrard said the University does not comment on pending litigation.

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