University punishes medic late to class after emergency treatment

Paediatrician delayed by 29 minutes helping child patient “with high death risk”

June 24, 2024
Ambulances in the Chinese city of Heihe
Source: iStock/PROMT8

The penalty faced by a medical lecturer in China who was late for a class after providing urgent care to a child has raised questions about the dual responsibilities of teaching staff in medical universities.

Southern Medical University, in Guangdong province, has reportedly released a briefing about an incident in May in which a teacher was criticised for arriving 29 minutes late to her class and thus lost her monthly salary bonus and eligibility for annual merit appraisal.

The statement explains that the lecturer, who is also a paediatrician, went to check one of her patients and, upon discovering the child in a critical condition “with a high death risk”, immediately provided emergency treatment. Meanwhile, her colleague heard the news and went to the class to explain the situation to students.

The university imposed the penalty considering that the teacher “managed to complete teaching tasks and did not cause adverse effects”, and urged all faculty to “enhance work responsibility” and “ensure the stable operation of teaching and learning orders”.

This statement has triggered a furore on social media about how it is at odds with the notion of “life comes first”. Li Hongbo, professor and director of the Research Centre of Education Law at China University of Political Science and Law, wrote: “From the legal perspective, [the lecturer’s] behaviour of being late for class can be justified legally with necessity, which is neither blameworthy nor punishable.”

Professor Li also emphasised that saving lives should be the moral priority of health workers and declared that this incident was the best “public class” for medical students.

After the social media outrage, the university stated to the media that it had classified the incident as a “teaching error”, which is the “lightest” penalty. Managers would follow up after further investigation, it added.

Many institutions in China, including Anhui Medical University and Chongqing Medical University, have since clarified in their relevant policies that incidents caused by “force majeure factors” should not be classified as teaching errors.

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