Hearing Friday For Expelled U Of L Nursing Student UPDATE – Hearing Called Off

by Gabe Bullard on April 9, 2009

UPDATE: The hearing has been canceled at U of L’s request. The school’s argument is that Yoder has missed too many classes to complete her education on time. The lawsuit for Yoder’s reinstatement continues. Friday, a federal judge will hold a hearing in the case of Nina Yoder, a University of Louisville nursing student who was expelled over posts on her MySpace page. Yoder is suing the university, claiming the action violated her First Amendment rights

Between January 2008 and February 2009, University of Louisville Nursing Student Nina Yoder wrote dozens of posts on her MySpace blog.

“Let’s say I was being unorthodox and expressing my opinions,” she says.

…Opinions on topics like abortion, gun ownership and patients she’d treated as part of her training. It was the last topic that led to Yoder’s expulsion.

“They put in front of me printouts of my blogs and said due to the nature of my blogs I’m being dismissed from school,” says Yoder.

U of L says it can’t publicly discuss student expulsion cases, but the school sent Yoder a letter saying her posts about unnamed patients were the reason for her dismissal because they violated the department’s honor code.

“We don’t think that there’s anything in the school’s honor code that would constitute a waiver of her first amendment rights,” says Yoder’s attorney Daniel Canon. “Certainly not. Nor her right to due process. Nor do I think she could waive that or be compelled to wave that.”

Canon says public institutions can’t restrict speech. But Yoder did sign an honor code promising to adhere to, quote, the highest standards of honesty, integrity, accountability, confidentiality, and professionalism.

Canon says that’s too vague, and regardless of the code any attempts to limit student speech are unconstitutional.

“Students blog about being in school,” he says. “Professionals blog about being professionals. Lawyers blog about being lawyers. Doctors blog about being doctors. This is something that happens, it’s going to continue to happen. Students blog about being students.”

“We are each entitled to our opinions. It’s how we express this opinion and where we express it and who we might be hurting by it that needs to be taken into account,” says Cleveland State University School of Nursing Director Dr. Vida Lock.

“It’s one thing to discuss patients among nursing students, but why she would be posting something like this on a public forum, I think, is unprofessional,” she says.

Lock says nursing students are on their way to becoming nurses, and are therefore taught and expected to follow the standards of professional nurses.

While she hasn’t had any cases of students blogging about patients, Lock says it’s possible for the posts to violate professional codes of ethics for nurses. But she couldn’t say if that would warrant immediate expulsion.

“If a student made derogatory comments about a patient – that a patient was student stupid or ugly or something like that, I would certainly have a talking to with that student,” she says.

Adam Kissel with the Foundation of Individual Rights in Education says it’s unfair to hold students who might, as other U of L nursing students have done, post unflattering or embarrassing photos of themselves on a blog, to strict professional standards for speech or behavior, because they aren’t yet professionals.

“Same thing with teaching or social work,” says Kissel. “If you’re an up and coming social worker or an up and coming teacher, you’re going to make some mistakes. And the ethics code might be there, but until you actually become a full practicing social worker, there’s got to be some leeway for you to make those mistakes and recover from them.”

Kissel says if student speech is going to be limited to meet professional standards, there should be a hearing process for those who violate the code.

“If all they have in their nursing standard of ethics is just a four paragraph statement saying you have preserve ethical standards and nothing else, then that’s way too vague for something you can use against someone for their otherwise protected speech,” he says.

Yoder did petition her case, but was not allowed on campus for a hearing. The petition was denied. Daniel Canon, her attorney, says school officials should have talked to Yoder about her alleged violation before expelling her. He says because the school did not give Yoder a chance to be heard, that equates to a denial of Yoder’s constitutional right to due process, in addition to an abrogation of free speech.

Canon and Adam Kissel say they don’t know of any similar lawsuits involving university students’ speech specifically on blogs. But in similar cases, judges have tended to rule in favor of school disciplinary actions, unless the student could prove due process was denied.

Comments Closed

{ 11 comments }

j. schraeder-phipps April 9, 2009 at 6:48 pm

With nursing shortages across the county, why is it that the profession subjects its students and practitioners to draconian penalties for all but the most minor infractions? Perhaps it is that the keys to the kingdom are held by hateful crones still bitter about the days when nightly patient back massages and the fetching of coffee for physicians were the norm. Misery loves company.

That said, Ms. Yoder’s blog was absolutely obnoxious and her obvious contempt for her patients and anyone whose opinions differ from hers make me cringe at the thought of being under her care. Maybe the school was right in dismissing her.

Their loss. She’d probably fit right in.

Karl Marx April 9, 2009 at 10:46 pm

Wow! What an upside down weird world. She had to come all the way from Russia to the United States to have her rights violated. Shame on you UofL, maybe they don’t practice due process in Moscow but they do in America!

George Cox April 11, 2009 at 10:54 am

The mark of a true profession is that the members of the profession police themselves to ensure ethical behavior and adherence to acceptable professional practice and conduct standards by its members. If allowed to continue, this individual would surely disgrace the nursing profession as a whole, as she has clearly disgraced herself and all other contemporary students of professional nursing. She is clearly unfit for the profession and should never be allowed to continue in professional nursing.

Nursing student April 13, 2009 at 12:25 pm

The real reason people are upset about this is because of her political views. She didn’t violate patient confidentiality. Unless there is a sarcasm code at her school, she should win her lawsuit. Nursing school is very stressful. Humor is one way to deal with the stress.
What was unprofessional was her fellow students turning her in without (I assume) talking to her about it first.

Keri Mocanu April 14, 2009 at 12:38 am

If you take the person you love the most…your husband, your mother or father or your child and you think about leaving them for even one night in the hopital, it is a traumatic experience in itself even with the most caring, professional and experienced nurses in the field. Then, think about leaving that same loved one, especially your vulnerable child, in the care (or lack thereof) of this individual. What a nightmare!!! I can’t even imagine… Just think about it.
I realize, however, that we are mostly unaware of the views and beliefs of our caregivers. It was not so much her politial beliefs or even some of her other opinions that frightened me. It was the way she talked about her patients, talked about the woman giving birth as if the people she took care of were not people at all. I can’t imagine having to share the happiest day of my life and the birth of one of my children with the likes of her.
Yes, as nurses we use humor to cope with some of the most horrible of situations, but this was not funny at all. In fact, it borders and more likely crosses the line of sickness. Truly, think about leaving a loved one alone with her. She probably enjoys inflicting pain on children and the elderly.
The worst nursing shortage in America is no excuse to lower our standards to include the likes of this individual into our noble profession and no she would not fit right in…

Mary Ellen April 14, 2009 at 8:41 pm

In her blog, she claims she brought in her own camera to take photos of the birth and vividly describes competing with the doctor for the best viewing position between the patient’s legs. This isn’t a violation????

RN LouKY April 14, 2009 at 10:08 pm

She did in fact, breach confidentiality. She not only gave details about a patient’s birth experience, but if you look further, she talked about 2 suicidal patients in a demeaning manner. She also identified herself as a U of L nursing student.

That being said, she also made racist remarks about the people around the Health Sciences Campus, and talked about them having low IQs, basically called them subhumans, etc. These are patients who utilize the clinics and hospital there. Why in the world should U of L allow her access to these patients after the things she has said about them??? I applaud their decision.

She obviously is unable to make critical decisions, as evidenced by the fact that she posted this vitriol on the internet for all to see. Would you want someone who doesn’t think before they act taking care of your family members, and then posting hateful things and identifying information about them on their blog? I wouldn’t let her anywhere near my patients or family members.

As nurses, we are ethically bound to protect our patients above all else. Most of us take that very seriously. Put yourselves in U of L’s shoes- could you knowingly let someone like that continue to have access to vulnerable patients?

Even if she gets to return, I hope the Board of Nursing denies her licensure. She sure as heck is going to have a hard time finding a job, based on what she blogged about, and based on the publicity she has sought over this. No hospital in their right mind would hire her, if only out of fear for being sued if they chose to fire her for breaching confidentiality and using hate speech against her patients.

Every decision she has made in this whole thing shows she not fit to make life-or-death decisions. Sheesh- she’s ruining her career before it has even started.

Ivan April 15, 2009 at 5:41 am

How is signing a form agreeing to keep patient information confidential being vague? She may be a student, but she is also an adult, and those agreements are binding. On her myspace page she has clearly violated patient privacy. Then on that same page has posted blatantly racist material. Would we be having this conversation if she were a police cadet? Newp. So why are we having it for a nursing student who also might be making life/death decisions someday? Scenario: what if she acts out on a patient who is a minority? What administrator, educator, or employer could justify their decision to work with her if they had previously known about those posts? If she were to have a patient of color that were to have a bad outcome (through NO fault of her own) lawyers like D. Canon would be all over posts like that. She is a liability. She is so proud of her racism that as of today the site is still up. That is her right guaranteed by the first amendment (I’ll bet it is a TOS violation by myspace though). The first amendment doesn’t say anything about allowing people to say whatever they want, whenever they want. Nursing does not need this person.

Has to be about the law April 16, 2009 at 6:53 pm

Matters not how obnoxious she may have been on her own time.

Matters not who she may have offended on her own time.

If she broke no laws, this is nothing more than a violation of free speech, and in this case, the law most likely to be in question is HIPAA, the law designed to make health information portable while protecting patient’s privacy.

The reality is that by the letter of the law (HIPAA), it does not appear that she violated confidentiality. And if she actually DID violate HIPAA, the University has far more obligation than expelling her, they have an obligation to expose her to both civil and criminal action…because HIPAA is federal LAW, not a matter of opinion. Given that they failed to make this a legal matter, it appears they are aware that they didn’t have findings to go that route.

So, since it’s apparent that she violated no laws, then this is nothing more than a violation of her constitutional right to free speech. No matter her views, she is entitled to speak them. And as a public university, OofL has an obligation to uphold the constitution.

Other unknown issues include her academic standing, prior incidents (nothing reported), and more importantly if they followed their own policies on due process and discipline.

Having graduated from nursing school (twice), and currently as an RN, I have to point out the obvious; these schools are run by RN’s who generally don’t have a strong grasp of due process and fair consideration in these matters. Subjective judgement is the norm, and I seriously doubt that the nursing faculty are intellectual heavyweights when it comes to addressing a situation like this. They probably rolled the dice on this one and simply hoped that she would just roll over and give up like I suspect DOZENS of previously expelled students have unquestioningly done in the past.

I hope Nina wins this.

A. Professional Nurse April 18, 2009 at 5:14 am

Speaking as an RN with 20 years experience, If I had overheard this person saying any of the things she apparently blogged about (let alone bringing her own camera into a clinical area!!) I would be in her educator’s office demanding she be disciplined. If she were to be able to continue her education and eventually become a nurse I would work to see she was never allowed to work in my facility. I have no sympathy or time for someone who doesn’t understand that EVERY PATIENT deserves respect and consideration. To refer to anyone as lesser than is the hallmark of a self-centered, arrogant child that has no business in my profession. Go to medical school if you want to despise and belittle your patients.

Marie Britt April 29, 2009 at 1:09 am

This is still America. I think everyone has the right to their opinion, especially to write it down in a blog, just as many have the right to gossip, gripe or complain, or comment (as many have exercised on this blog.)
Everyone should be able to safely blow off steam, express their discontent, and as long as she didn’t identify anyone directly, I don’t see anything wrong with what she did.
She blogged. So what? Its no worse than anyone criticizing or supporting her in public or behind closed doors.
Its not like she marched up to those she was blogging on and did it directly to them. That would have been different. She didn’t name names, she just expressed unpopular opinions on common themes that could apply to hundreds of people.

It is interesting how many are quick to criticize her..does that mean those who criticize have never said anything wrong about anyone- whether the subject was wholly innocent of the remark or not?

Have you never had a foul thought about another person you barely knew, or passed in public, worked with, disagreed with, etc?

It seems very backwards to me, that a student pursuing a career has been expelled because she exercised her right to free speech. I am just thankful she has fantastic defense on her side, and the First Amendment.

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