Drug Screening 101: What You Need to Know for Student Clinical Rotations
Health science students using illegal drugs are putting more at risk than their ongoing participation in clinical site training programs. If they are under the influence of drugs, they are not only at risk of having impaired judgment, but they could also harm others in the clinical environment, including vulnerable patients.
To make sure your students take all necessary steps to complete drug screening, you will need to understand the ins and outs of drug testing in schools, applicable laws, and how to set students up for success.
The Importance of Student Drug Testing
Drug testing for students entering clinical rotation or residency programs is just as important as it is for regular employees working in a clinical setting. It helps identify individuals who may be impaired by illegal drug use and present a risk to patient safety. By screening students for illegal drugs and other banned substances, clinical sites are protecting patients and students.
Student drug testing is fairly common in clinical settings. A study of family medicine residency programs found the majority of programs (68.9 percent) required drug testing for incoming residents. Programs with student drug testing requirements are helping students begin their clinical training on the right foot, free from the performance limitations often accompanied by drug abuse.
In addition to patient safety, there are other reasons training programs for health science professions require student drug screening. Many of the reasons for testing are preventative in nature, and they include the following:
- To prevent misuse or theft of prescription medications available in clinical settings
- To avoid lawsuits associated with mistakes made by a drug-impaired student
- To catch drug abuse early among students, and to offer support for helping them discontinue potentially career-limiting behaviors
Best Practices for Drug Testing in Schools and Clinical Sites
Student drug screening is similar to employment drug screening because it is governed by many of the same privacy laws and often tests for the same groups of banned substances. However, student drug screening is unique because of the critical role colleges and universities play in helping their students meet clinical site screening requirements. With the help of available screening solutions specifically for students pursuing health science professions, educational institutions can help students complete their requirements and experience fewer obstacles to on-time participation in clinical training programs.
For success in student drug screening, it’s essential to follow best practices for understanding requirements and tracking student compliance with those requirements. Follow these best practices to help your students complete drug screening ahead of their participation in clinical rotation and residency programs:
Understand applicable laws
Like many other aspects of background screening, there are federal and state laws designed to protect patient rights to privacy and fairness in screening. Applicable laws for student background screening include:
- Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): While the ADA does not offer protection for individuals using illegal drugs, it does offer protections for individuals using prescription drugs, which may be banned in some clinical sites. A great example is medicinal marijuana, which is legal in some states.
- Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA): HIPAA requires a release before student Protected Health Information (PHI), such as drug testing results, can be provided to other parties.
- Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA): FERPA provides students with rights when it comes to the disclosure of their educational records to third parties. Like HIPAA, FERPA requires student drug screening programs to have data security protocols for collecting and sharing student data.
Understand testing frequency requirements
While most clinical sites require students to complete drug screening before participating in rotation or residency programs, some may require additional testing after the start of those programs. For example, clinical sites may require screening in the following circumstances:
- Upon suspicion of abuse
- After an accident or as part of a malpractice investigation
- As part of a random testing program
Clinical sites may also require periodic testing for COVID-19 throughout the duration of students’ rotational or residency programs. While diagnostic testing for COVID-19 is not drug testing, per se, the testing process is similar. For both kinds of tests, students must follow guidelines for specific testing methods at an approved facility. Given the similarities, some clinical sites may include COVID-19 testing guidelines in their drug screening requirements.
To help your health science professions students get prepared, it’s necessary to understand testing frequencies at each clinical site and make students aware of how often they may be tested after the start of their program.
Have an efficient process for connecting students with testing centers
When students have the ability to self-schedule drug screening appointments at approved and in-network collection sites, they can meet screening requirements sooner and with less fuss. Paperless drug screening configured for mobile use empowers students to take the following steps:
- Review and sign drug screening disclosure and authorization forms
- See testing centers near their location
- Schedule an appointment at a time that fits their schedule
Know the commonly tested drugs
While there are many categories of drugs a clinical site may include in student drug screening, there is some consistency across sites. Plus, not all substances included in drug testing are illegal. For example, oxycodone is a popular prescription drug for pain, but it can be harmful when abused and is typically included in clinical site drug screening.
The most commonly tested drugs include:
- Phencyclidine (PCP)
Of all the commonly tested drugs, marijuana has become the most controversial in recent years. While marijuana is a commonly tested drug and still illegal per federal law, several states have legalized marijuana, and some clinical sites may have changed their policies accordingly. Nevertheless, since students impaired by marijuana could pose a similar risk to patients as with other drugs, clinical sites continue to test for it.
Explain what happens if a student tests positive
Just as a negative test result doesn’t indicate a student has never used illicit drugs or never will in the future, a positive test result doesn’t necessarily result in the end of a student’s health science professional career. Often, there are several avenues students with positive test results can pursue, including challenging the results. Other options may include:
- An opportunity for the student to be retested
- Student counseling
- Disciplinary action and possible rescinding of an offer to participate in clinical training
Given the likelihood of variations in how clinical sites approach a positive test result, it’s critical to understand how clinical site policies differ and communicate those guidelines to students in advance.
Work with a provider experienced in student drug screening
Keeping track of student compliance with clinical site requirements is easier when you work with a screening provider skilled in student drug testing. The screening provider understands the laws governing student drug screening, as well as common challenges related to drug testing in schools, universities, and clinical environments.
When you work with a background screening provider to facilitate student drug screening, you have access to the following services and capabilities:
- An efficient drug screening process for connecting students with approved testing sites
- Best practices and guidance on drug screening and marijuana legalization laws affecting student testing
- Paperless drug screening technology to make the drug screening easier and more efficient for students
Streamline the Student Drug Screening Process
Following best practices in student drug screening puts you in a better position to support your students pursuing a career in the health science professions, but providing assistance in the drug screening process is only one of the ways you support students participating in clinical site training programs. In addition to helping them complete drug testing, you also provide students with resources and guidance for their immunizations and background screening.
To learn more about how you can create a more streamlined screening process for students preparing to enter clinical rotation or residency programs, read our guide, Improving Immunization Compliance: A Guide for Your Clinical Programs.