Office of the Ombudsperson

Frequently Asked Questions

The most frequently asked questions about the Ombudsperson Office.

Who can use the Office of the Ombudsperson?

The Ombudsperson is available to all members of the School of Medicine community, medical students, graduate students in the biomedical sciences, residents, post doctoral scholars, clinical and basic science fellows, clinician-educators, staff, academic staff and all faculty including Adjunct Clinical Faculty.

What does the Ombudsperson actually do?

First, the ombudsperson will listen to you in a nonjudgmental and objective way.

If appropriate, the ombudsperson will help you obtain information, review policies and procedures and help you evaluate your options and possible next steps. The ombuds may be able to answer your questions or find others who can give you the answers you are seeking. The ombudsperson may assist in informally resolving a dispute or conflict by facilitating communication, coaching on conflict resolution or mediating between willing parties. The ombudsperson can also advise about formal and administrative options for resolution and make referrals when informal options have not been successful.

Is the office really confidential?

The Ombudsperson will keep confidential the fact of your visit and everything you tell the ombudsperson unless you give the ombudsperson permission to reveal specific issues with specific persons for the purpose of resolving the conflict. The only exception to the promise of confidentiality is for cases involving imminent risk of bodily harm to oneself or to others.

How is the information I give to you kept confidential?

Usually, the ombudsperson will not take notes of the conversation or only jot down reminders of tasks to complete. All materials used during the course of a case are shredded on a routine basis. Any documents with names of visitors are also shredded. Materials you give the ombudsperson will not be kept but will be returned to you or shredded if you wish. The office itself is kept locked and any information with identifying characteristics is also kept in a locked file cabinet. The office is set up according to the Standards of Practice and the Code of Ethics and other guidelines issued by The Ombudsman Association and the University and College Ombuds Association.

If the office is confidential, why is the ombudsperson visiting with Deans and HR managers?

When the Ombudsperson is meeting with a Dean or an HR manager, it is because she has been given express permission to do so by a visitor to her office. She may be taking a problem forward for help in resolving the issue or seeking clarification for the visitor. The ombudsperson must maintain working relationships with managers and others and may meet periodically with such individuals to discuss situations where the ombudsperson has permission to speak with that individual. The ombudsperson may also meet with members of the Medical School community to learn more about different resources, to plan training initiatives, to arrange referrals and to discuss generic issues.

The ombuds attends various large meetings to learn about changes in the School and will attend committee meetings as an ex officio member.

There are so many resources at the School-where should I go first?

Stanford School of Medicine established the Office of the Ombudsperson to serve as a supplemental resource-the School wanted multiple points at which problems could be resolved. Many people decide to come to the Ombudsperson when they don’t know where to go. That is a perfectly good reason to see the ombudsperson. Others might come as last resort when they have exhausted all other avenues. Many people come to the Office when they are overwhelmed or losing sleep over a situation and they need to just hear themselves explain the situation or they need help from a neutral person to sort things out.

Can I get legal advice from the ombudsperson?

No, while the Ombudsperson is a lawyer, she does not practice law in this role.

When is it appropriate to contact the ombudsperson to set up an appointment or discuss an issue over the telephone?

How can the ombudsperson help me?

The ombudsperson may be able to help you by carefully listening to you and helping you to analyze your situation, helping you to identify and evaluate your options and researching and explaining relevant University or School policies. The ombudsperson may, with your permission, initiate discussions with others involved in the problem and if appropriate, assist in direct communication or act as a shuttle diplomat or intermediary between the parties. The ombudsperson may provide coaching in handling any troubling situation. Some visitors simply want a safe place to “vent”, they may not want any action taken on their behalf.

What does the Ombudsperson not do?

The ombudsperson does not participate in any way in formal grievance processes, does not adjudicate or decide outcomes, does not have any line authority to make any administrative or other type of decision within the University, does not determine guilt or innocence of anyone accused and does not reprimand or punish individuals.

The ombudsperson will not acknowledge who has used or did not use the Office of the Ombudsperson without the express consent of the person in question.

The Ombuds does not handle disputes involving private individuals, companies or organizations not affiliated with Stanford University. The Ombudsperson works only with Stanford University affiliated individuals at the School of Medicine.

How will I benefit from a visit to the Office of the Ombudsperson?

You may gain a clearer perspective on your issue or concern and greater insight into your situation. You may go away with an expanded list of options and clarification of policies and procedures. You may receive coaching on effective means to deal with conflict and increase your skills in managing difficult conversations. You may simply gain peace of mind for having discussed your situation with someone unrelated to you who can be objective and is knowledgeable about the School of Medicine. Since your visit is confidential, no one else will know of your concerns or the fact of your visit. This can be especially helpful when you fear talking about the issue may negatively affect you in some way.

Why doesn’t the ombudsperson use email? 

Email is not a confidential means of communication. The ombudsperson does not use email for substantive discussions because it creates a record. The ombudsperson does not keep records and will shred any documents used in the context of a case. Email cannot be shredded or destroyed. The ombudsperson will reply electronically to a request for an appointment or a telephone call.

If I contact the ombudsperson about a concern, is that putting the University on notice?

No, consistent with the informality, neutrality and confidentiality of the Office, communications with the Office of the Ombudsperson do not put the University or School on notice as to the content of that communication.

If you wish to report a problem or concern or file a complaint or grievance, the Ombudsperson can direct you to the appropriate person or office or see the resources list in this website.

How can the ombudsperson be neutral if the University pays her salary?

The Ombudsperson is paid by Stanford University to be a neutral, confidential and independent resource for members of the Medical School community for the resolution of complaints and disputes. The Office of the Ombudsperson subscribes to The Ombudsman Association Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice, which require an ombudsperson to be independent of management and to remain neutral. The Ombudsperson strives to provide impartial and neutral assistance to all members of the Medical School community.

What does “ombuds” mean?

The word means “the people’s representative.” In 1809, the Swedish Parliament voted to appoint an ombudsman to resolve difficult problems, after the King of Sweden was abducted. The ombuds assisted the subjects of the King with their concerns. In Scandinavia, ombudsman is a common word-meaning delegate, representative, agent, deputy or proxy. Throughout North America, ombudsmen have proliferated. There are several different types of ombudsmen, some are known as “classical ombudsmen” others act as “organizational ombudsmen.” There are others in such settings as newspapers, long term care facilities and in state governments.

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