Aid for the Impaired Medical Student (AIMSS)

Mercer University is required by federal law to be a drug-free workplace (Drug-Free Workplace Act). Furthermore, University policy is that illegal possession or use of intoxicants/drugs on University premises is cause for immediate termination for employees. Graduate (and Medical) Students are held to the same standard with regards to possession or use of drugs. Students may be expelled for use or possession of illegal drugs on University premises or other places where they fulfill requirements of the School’s educational programs.

Notwithstanding the above, it is recognized that personal involvement in substance abuse is a complex matter. Students who believe they have such problems are urged to seek medical advice and treatment, either on their own or through the Office of Student Affairs.

The Office of Student Affairs is a specific contact point where students can receive information about the evaluation and treatment possibilities both within and outside the School of Medicine.

Information about personal problems with substance abuse shared in a student-initiated request for assistance or shared with a personal therapist, whether a Mercer employee or not, will be treated as confidential information and will not be used in retention and/or promotion decisions. However, when student problems are identified by the School and when evaluation and treatment are components of a School/student approved plan of action, it is expected that the student will permit the therapist to report whether or not the student is participating in the approved plan. The therapist’s judgment will not be sought regarding the student’s suitability to practice medicine, nor will completion of a treatment plan or failure to complete a treatment plan be the sole reason for a retention or promotion decision.

Signs of Emotional Illness or Chemical Dependency

The following are signs of emotional illness or chemical dependency. The list is not necessarily comprehensive. It is intended to assist anyone in identifying students with potential difficulties.

  • Change in personality, dressing habits or neatness
  • Excessive irritability, anger beyond control
  • Mental confusion, drowsiness, inattention to work, loud, inappropriate euphoria
  • Appearance of being depressed, sad, withdrawn
  • Unsteady gait, slurred speech, alcohol on breath

AIMSS Program General Goals

  • Provide compassionate assistance to impaired students before they are irreversibly harmed
  • Provide help in a way that protects the rights of impaired students to receive treatment in the strictest confidence
  • Assure that recovered students are able to continue their medical education without stigma or penalty
  • Protect others from the harm that impaired students may cause
  • Prevent future cases of impairment through school-wide interventions

What Is Impairment?

Most medical students experience medical education as stressful, and most deal with the rigorous demands and pressures of school using healthy coping mechanisms. However, some students do not adapt successfully to these stresses and instead withdraw and isolate themselves and/or engage in the inappropriate use of alcohol and drugs. When these maladaptive coping techniques are relied upon repeatedly, a student may become impaired. We define an impaired medical student as one whose behavior violates the accepted standards of the medical profession.


The AIMSS program will be administered by the AIMSS Council. The AIMSS Council will consist of two (2) peer-elected students from each MD class, one (1) peer-selected student from each graduate program, the deans of student affairs who serve ex-officio, and a Dean-appointed faculty advisor. Members should be chosen for their integrity, maturity, and discretion. Once elected, these students remain as their class representatives for the remainder of their time at MUSM unless replaced by class vote. The AIMSS Council is co-chaired by one medical student and one professional member, both being elected by the membership of the Council. The Director of Wellness shall also serve on the AIMSS Council as an ex-officio member.

AIMSS Program Essential Elements

  • Prevention: Some students will recognize that they are coping poorly with stress and seek assistance before impairment occurs. The Office of Student Affairs can provide resources and facilitate referral for students in such circumstances. Both student and professional members of the AIMSS Council will augment those resources and provide information and assistance to students in seeking help when stresses are becoming unmanageable.
  • Assistance to the Impaired Student: The AIMSS Program will have a unique responsibility at MUSM; that is, where students are identified as impaired by others, but do not seek assistance. In this circumstance the AIMSS Program will take responsibility for identification, early intervention, and early referral to the Office of Students Affairs which shall arrange appropriate treatment and follow-up.
  • Identification of Impaired Students: Research suggests that as many as eight percent of medical students may become impaired during their years of training. Most of these students will not voluntarily seek help, but their impairment may be detected by classmates, friends, faculty, or staff. In this event, the reporting student/faculty member will relate the details of the situation to the appropriate class AIMSS representatives. The representatives and faculty advisor will review the facts of the situation to determine the accuracy of the information reported. Based up their review, they may decide that further steps are unnecessary, or that it is appropriate to intervene.
  • Early Intervention: The early intervention process of the AIMSS involves meeting with the impaired student to discuss the impairment in a helpful and supportive way. The interview will be conducted by one or both of the class AIMSS representatives and the faculty advisor. The purpose of the interview is to bring the student to the point of recognition that a problem exists, to express a commitment to help, and to explain the evaluation and treatment resources available.
  • Early Referral: The faculty advisor shall refer the student to the student affairs dean on their campus who will assume an advocacy role for the impaired student, and help him/her choose a physician (from a list approved by the Composite State Medical Board of Georgia) who will perform an evaluation or refer them to the GA Professionals Health Program.
  • Monitoring: The student’s dean of student affairs will refer the student to the Georgia Professionals Health Program, which will monitor the progress of the impaired student and will be responsible for ensuring compliance of the student with the treatment process.
  • Cost of Treatment: A student participating in the AIMSS Program may seek treatment from any approved physician. Payment will be met by the student’s individual health plan (insurance is required of all students enrolled at Mercer University School of Medicine). For hospital and other residential treatment programs, there may be substantial cost to the student.
  • Families of Impaired Students: Families can be an important part of a medical student’s development into a competent and responsible physician. Students’ spouses and families will be integrated into the evaluation and treatment process where indicated, and the costs of treatment addressed appropriately.
  • Failure of Treatment: In the event that a student is unsuccessful in treatment, if the student has failed to comply with the treatment program, or it appears that recovery continues to be compromised, the Georgia Professionals Health Program shall notify the dean of student affairs to plan for further action. Final disposition of the case, including dismissal of the student, is a judgment that resides with the dean of the School of Medicine.