Health Issues, Short- and Long-Term

Fall 2020 update

We understand that incapacitation takes many forms, and students may miss class and assessments for a variety of reasons. Please continue to use the Incapacitation Form while learning remotely to communicate with your instructors about your current circumstances.

Once you have submitted an incapacitation form, please remember that you have 48 hours to communicate directly with your instructor about missed work.

After three full days of missed work, you will be asked to contact your academic dean to reset the form. This limit remains in play to prompt timely discussions between you and your dean about ongoing incapacitation. The forms will be reset quickly once communication with your dean has been initiated.


Students who encounter short- and long-term medical issues or instances of personal distress/emergency can seek academic support if needed. For a short-term illness/injury, you should use an Incapacitation Form. For longer-term illnesses, personal emergencies, or absence from a final exam, you should consult with your academic dean to discuss accommodations and support. More information is below.

Short-Term Incapacitation:

You are expected to notify your instructors if you become incapacitated due to a short-term health issue that prevents you from completing an assignment, exam, quiz, presentation, lab, or any graded work or from attending a class where attendance is required.

Definition of Incapacitation:  An incapacitating health issue is one in which you are hospitalized, under medical care for a short-term condition, or otherwise sufficiently debilitated as to be unable to perform basic academic tasks. Colds, headaches, or other such mild complaints that result in your feeling less than 100% are not considered incapacitating, and you should not use the Incapacitation Form in such instances. 

An Incapacitation Form should only be submitted for reasons related to your health; an Incapacitation Form submitted for any other reason will not be accepted by the instructor. The Incapacitation Form is also only a notification, indicating that you have missed class and/or cannot complete an assignment on time due to an incapacitating health issue. When you submit an Incapacitation Form, it is your responsibility to meet or otherwise communicate with the instructor of the course in question within 48 hours to discuss your missed work and how it will be treated in accordance with the instructor's policy. If you do not contact your instructor within 48 hours following the date the Incapacitation Form was submitted, your instructor is under no obligation to accommodate your health issue and can treat your missed work as unexcused. Exceptions to the 48-hour deadline may be granted by your academic dean in extraordinary circumstances.  Incapacitation Forms are monitored by the academic deans of Trinity College and the Pratt School of Engineering, and instances of abuse will be reported to the Office of Student Conduct.

For Students:

The incapacitation form notification procedure is based on these operating principles:

  • You are in the best position to judge whether you are too incapacitated to complete an assignment or exam at the designated time.
  • You will only use the Incapacitation Form for reasons related to your health and then only if your issue is truly incapacitating.
  • You will act in accordance with the Duke Community Standard, in particular that provision stating that you will not "provide false or misleading information in order to be excused from classes or assignments."

This is what you should do:

  • Consult DukeHub to view your class schedule to obtain the name and number of the course and the name of the course instructor.
  • Complete the secure on-line form (below) and submit it. An e-mail to your instructor will be generated, with a copy sent to you. A copy is also placed in a file to which your dean has access. Deans do not review Incapacitation Form usage on a daily basis, so if you would like your dean to know that you are incapacitated, email a separate note to your dean.
  • You should send the Incapacitation Form as soon as possible once you realize that your issue has become incapacitating. Instructors will expect you to submit the Incapacitation Form prior to the class you are missing, if at all possible.
  • Meet with or contact your instructor within 48 hours of submitting the Incapacitation Form to discuss how you can be accommodated under the circumstances, in accordance with the class policy. Your instructor is under no obligation to accommodate your absence if you fail to meet the 48-hour deadline and your instructor can treat it as an unexcused absence or late work.
  • Avoid obtaining any information about a graded exercise that would give you an unfair advantage over other students taking the course, as your instructor may want to use the same graded exercise that the rest of the class has completed.
  • Your electronic signature on the form affirms your compliance with the Duke Community Standard.
  • If you have reached your limit for Incapacitation Forms for a given semester, you should contact your dean to have the form reactivated and/or discuss options if you are dealing with a longer lasting health issue.

Online Form: Incapacitation Form

For Instructors:

  • Please require the use of the Incapacitation Form for all absences due to incapacitating health issues when graded work is missed. The Incapacitation Form provides a means of documenting student absences. This record is used by the academic deans as a basis for evaluating problematic absences and identifying students in need of support.
  • The Incapacitation Form only allows a student to address the form to one instructor. If you have a team-taught course or use TAs, give clear instructions to students as to whom they should send an Incapacitation Form.
  • You have a right to expect students who submit an Incapacitation Form to meet or communicate with you within 48 hours to talk about how you might accommodate their missed work in accordance with your course policy and to discuss the implications of missing a class, exam or deadline for submission of work. If a student fails to meet the 48-hour deadline, you are under no obligation to accommodate the student, and his/her absence may be treated as unexcused and any missing work as late.   
  • Do not accept an Incapacitation Form if it has been used for any reason other than incapacitating health issue.
  • If you suspect that a student is abusing the Incapacitation Form, you should bring this to the attention of the student's academic dean or refer the matter yourself to the Office of Student Conduct for investigation.   
  • For a student who has excessive absences and missed work such that he/she is no longer able to meet the learning objectives of your course, you should bring this to the attention of the student's academic dean. In such cases, the use of the Incapacitation Form would be inappropriate and unacceptable and the student may be asked to withdraw from your class or be given a failing grade. 

Long-Term or Chronic Health Issues:

Trinity College of Arts & Sciences recognizes that some students will enter Duke with a chronic health issue, or will develop a condition that persists; such conditions may have an impact on academic life as well as campus life.

Students:  If you have a chronic illness or persistent health issue, you should contact your academic dean and inform her or him of the situation. Your academic dean will assist you in planning how to manage your situation.

Instructors:  Please refer a student with chronic health issues to his/her academic dean and/or notify the academic dean if a student seems to be struggling with a long-term issue.

Instances of Personal Distress or Emergency:

Trinity College of Arts & Sciences recognizes that some students may need to deal with instances of personal distress or emergency that have an impact on academic life as well as campus life.  For information on resources for support and assistance, see Emergencies, Personal.

Students:  If you encounter a situation which is especially difficult for you, contact your academic dean and inform her or him of the situation. Your academic dean will assist you in planning how to manage your situation.  

Instructors: Please refer a student struggling with personal issues to his/her academic dean and/or notify the academic dean if a student seems to be distressed and struggling.

Absence from a Final Exam:

Students are expected to take final examinations at the scheduled times unless an extraordinary circumstance interferes. Given the time limitations inherent in making up a missed final exam, absence from a final exam is handled differently than a short-term or long-term illness. The Incapacitation Form is turned off during the final exam period. If you are unable to take a final exam as scheduled, you must contact your academic dean as soon as possible, preferably before the scheduled final exam but at least within 48 hours of missing the final exam. Your dean will ask for documentation of illness or emergency. If your dean excuses your absence, he/she will notify your instructor and allow a make-up exam to be scheduled.  If your dean does not excuse your absence, you may receive a zero for the exam. 

For more details, see Absence from Final Exams 

See also