With the legalization of cannabis coming to some U.S. states, questions surrounding drug testing in medical school (both for prospective and current students), appear to be on the rise.
So do medical schools drug test?
Yes, many medical schools do drug tests. But the frequency and extent of testing are school-dependent (also some don’t test at all). To be 100% sure, it’s advised to check your school’s (or any school you’re interested in) policy.
As a general rule, however; if you’re expected to work in a hospital (in whatever capacity), you’re likely to be subject to drug testing.
We’ll get into the details more in this article.
Here’s what else we’ll cover:
- What happens if you fail a drug test in medical school
- List of schools that test
- What type of testing they can do
- Student stories surrounding drug testing
As a med student myself, and someone who’s aware that activities like this can happen before/during studies, I hope this article can help shed more light on the topic.
Ready to learn more? Let’s get to it.
What can medical schools drug test for?
Most med schools ask for a panel that includes tests for a range of controlled substances.
The most common ones include:
Although it’s possible to mask these substances in your system, it’s definitely not recommended.
What happens if you failed a drug test in medical school?
The outcome of failing a drug test in medical school is down to the school itself.
Some schools take it lightly, others can be notoriously strict.
Cases are judged independently and sometimes on severity. Here’s what could influence any decision:
- Type of drug (legal status etc)
- Quantity of drug (both consumed and in possession)
- A student’s previous history
Another factor that could weigh into a decision is timing. Students involved in light recreational drug use in pre-clinical years, for example, could possibly come off better than those involved with it during clinical rotations.
Understandably, med schools have to protect against any negligence toward hospital patients.
As an example of what could happen in the aftermath of testing positive for illicit or controlled substances, here’s what the University of Washington Medicine (UW) says…
If there is a confirmed positive for a controlled (Schedules II-V) or an illicit substance, the medical student will be referred to the Associate Dean for Student Affairs for further assessment and management. Depending on the circumstances, the student may be referred to the Washington Physician’s Health Plan (WPHP).(Source)
As you can see, the process usually includes the involvement of Student Affairs and an investigation.
Also, note that some schools are very clear on the outcome of a failed drug test, effectively removing you from clinical service at immediate notice.
Students who refuse to submit to a required criminal background check or drug screening tests may be subject to dismissal from the school of medicine. Any positive drug test for a non-medically prescribed substance will result in the student’s removal from clinical service or any patient contact, pending further investigation.Boston University School of Medicine – Criminal Record and Drug Screening for Students
Do you get notice?
Most med schools are obliged to notify you in advance of any required drug tests. The length of this notice can differ.
Examples of some of these time frames are given below in the “List of medical schools that drug test.”
Also; it’s not totally unheard of for some schools to perform random testing.
Does having a drug/alcohol misconduct charge ruin your chances of getting into medical school?
Not specifically but it’s likely to be a serious mark against any application.
As it’s down to a school’s own admissions policy whether you must disclose any felony or misdemeanor convictions, the answer can get complicated.
But it’s very rare not to be asked to disclose.
So if you can’t fully prove the rehabilitation of your character, via exceptional letters of recommendation (LOR’s) for example, it can be really tough to look competitive.
And although it’s not proven that medical school blacklisting actually exists, there’s a theory that any charge or misdemeanor related to drugs/alcohol (especially if it’s in the public domain), could count against you.
List of medical schools that drug test
The following schools are confirmed to perform drug tests as part of their policy. I’ve also attempted to detail when/how these tests are conducted.
Note: this is by no means an exhaustive list and is subject to change. If in any doubt, please check with medical schools directly to see what their exact policies are in advance of any application.
Pre-clinical drug testing is required of all students in the clinical schools at Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC). Students in the School of Nursing, College of Dental Medicine, and Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons are required to undergo a 10-metabolite urine drug screen prior to the beginning of their clinical rotations(Source)
All incoming medical students must undergo a Criminal Background Check (CBC) and drug screening before matriculation as facilitated by a contracted vendor. Acceptance to Emory School of Medicine is contingent upon the authorization to conduct a drug screening and CBC, as well as the release of its findings to Emory.(Source)
To promote the health, safety and productivity of students and clients in their care, OHSU policy (OHSU Student Drug and Alcohol Testing No. 7-90-025) states all students accepted to education programs with a clinical component must successfully pass an initial drug screening. The drug testing program will consist of pre-clinical experience testing of students and “for cause” testing for any student suspected of being under the influence of unlawful drugs or alcohol during their course of study.(Source)
You can also see what the class of 2020 at OSHU were tested for (cocaine, PCP, methadone, etc) here.
Students enrolled at the COM must comply with these background check and drug screening requirements or will be ineligible to participate in clerkships and other clinical experiences that are required as part of the COM program. Failure to comply may prevent the students from being able to satisfactorily complete their educational program.(Source)
The Hospital requires all students to complete a health clearance process that includes drug screening. To expedite processing and clearances, the Hospital will accept the ” 7 Panel Drug Screening” from an outside certified lab. The results must be on the lab’s letterhead and must be dated within 6 months of the student’s/intern’s start date.(Source)
All students will be tested before beginning year 3. A negative (“clear”) test is required for continuation in the curriculum. The program may be expanded to additional student groups in the future, and retesting may be required if a facility requires a more recent test result than is provided for in the SOM policy.(Source)
Loma Linda University may require drug testing of students for clinical requirements and/or reasonable suspicion of impairment, which may occur at any time while the student is enrolled. Students must sign an acknowledgment that they are aware of this requirement; as well as consent to comply with this requirement of testing for alcohol, drugs, and controlled.(Source)
University of Miami
Medical School and UHealth employees that are local will have their drug screening conducted at the Employee Health Office on the day of your pre-employment appointment. If you are out of town, you will receive an email from our background vendor SterlingBackcheck to take your drug screening within 72 hours.(Source)
Do medical schools test for nicotine?
Nicotine is very rarely one of the substances listed on the drug testing panel of medical schools.
If asked on any school or residency application if you do smoke; be honest. Some schools operate Tobacco-Free Policies.
Do medical schools do hair drug tests?
Hair drugs, like finasteride (Propecia), are unlikely to be tested.
Where hair could be relevant is via the method of testing. A few residency placements routinely drug test via hair samples (just as med schools do commonly via urine).
Why do medical schools drug test?
Some are legally obliged by state law, others independently decide.
For those making up the latter, reasons for testing can include:
- Preservation of a school/college/University’s image
- Protection from patients from the failure of duty of care
Is it ethical?
It’s my intent to make this article as non-political as possible. Although I have my own personal views when it comes to the topic, it’s not my place to dictate what people (and schools) should do.
The arguments suggesting it’s an invasion of privacy do seem to be counterbalanced by school image and the risk of potential negligence, however.
International medical school drug testing policies
Outside America, it appears drug testing is a lot more relaxed for med school students and applicants.
Do medical students get drug tested in Canada?
Random drug tests can be run by med schools in Canada. Just as in the U.S., they notify students beforehand.
Do medical students get drug tested in the UK?
No. The only time they would be expected to be drug tested is if under suspicion via a case of negligence.
Do medical students get drug tested in Europe?
No. It’s extremely rare and again, only likely to happen in a case of extreme negligence or disrepute.
Stories of failing a medical drug test: Reddit’s best
The r/medicalschool and r/premed communities on Reddit have some good lessons to learn from when it comes to drug testing.
Here are some of the better ones I could find (along with recommendations on what to do etc.)…
Be careful about your conduct
“I’m a soon-to-be 3rd year, preparing to start my clerkships in July. I had a lapse of judgment and smoked for a bit without knowing my drug test date because I had bad anxiety about COVID/Boards, etc. When I found out that I had a drug test, it was about a month out. I worked out/detoxed and was testing negative before my drug test, but the tests I was using had a 50 nanogram threshold and then later I found out that the school requested the cutoff to be 15 nanograms/ml. So the center informed me that they will be telling my school the results on Monday. I asked the center what my quantitative results are and I was at 46 nanograms/ml.”(Source)
In this case, the student in question, although I appreciate they were under immense pressure, should really have been more careful about their conduct. Probably the best step forward here is to avoid any further dishonesty and hope the school shows mercy.
Many commentators here recommend pleading innocence and asking for a retest (as well as using Covid anxiety as an excuse). But seeking legal counsel appears the more appropriate logical step.
Repercussions are school dependent
“A “friend” tested positive for cannabis at the beginning of med school. They wound up not really caring, they were looking for the harder stuff. Just be honest about it.”(Source)
As mentioned before, the outcome of any drug tests will be down to your own school’s (or the one you’re applying to) own policy and protocol.
Unless you’re using hard drugs it seems your chances of dismissal are possibly higher.
Know the most popular testing windows (and know your school’s policy)
“And if there’s an accident or mistake made during clinical rotations, they’ll test you…The DO program I was accepted to made us provide a urine drug screen by the end of April…It will state it in their policies in their student handbook if they allow a second test if the first is positive.”(Source)
There’s lots of good information in the stories here, namely about potential testing times and what to do concerning them.
As already stated; it’s always best to follow the policies in your school’s student handbook if in any doubt.
Don’t fight against policy
I’m currently a first year med student and I got an email today informing me that they are introducing a random drug screen policy effective 30 days from now. All students will be tested in April 2018 and then tested twice randomly throughout the subsequent years. They specifically mention marijuana in the email and something about a $500 student health appt. That the student must cover themselves in event of a failed test for marijuana. The penalty for other drugs found in the test are not included in the email…How common is a policy like this in medical schools? Personally I found it a little insulting that they would drug test us. Im really against this policy and want to try and fight it, but I don’t lnow how realistic that is. Any input or advice on how to go about dealing with this would be much appreciated.(Source)
As the students in this story chime in; it’s really not worth fighting against a school’s policy. Your chances of winning are minimal. While your chances of alienating the administration (and ruining your career) are high.
Ethical or privacy arguments aside, if you’re unclear about a school’s drug testing policy, the best advice is to operate under the side of caution.
Avoid any illicit drug or substance abuse (even if it’s legal in the state you reside in) as it’s just not worth the risk.
Med school is already competitive and stressful enough.
You don’t want to complicate that by indulging in anything likely to further endanger your position!
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Born and raised in the UK, Will went into medicine late (31) after a career in journalism. He’s into football (soccer), learned Spanish after 5 years in Spain, and has had his work published all over the web. Read more.