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Surviving Medical School: Avoiding plagiarism

04 February 2021

Medical students are expected to be honest and trustworthy, and to act with integrity, and this equally applies to academic work.

What is plagiarism?

Plagiarism is the practice of taking someone else's work or ideas and passing them off as your own, with or without their consent, by incorporating it into your work without full acknowledgement. All published and unpublished material, whether in manuscript, printed or electronic form, is covered under this definition.

Tips for avoiding plagiarism

You’ll be aware of the things you can do to prevent plagiarism while you’re at medical school, including making sure you include references for any information from other publications or authors. Many people make this mistake, especially when it comes to online material.

Here are some tips:

    1. Cite your source – identify the full name of the source, the date it was published, and any other citation element that’s required.
    2. Include quotations – use quotation marks around the words that aren’t your own.
    3. Paraphrase – rewrite the information in your own words.
    4. Present your own idea – add your own thoughts and perspective.
    5. Use a plagiarism checker – an online tool can help you catch any issues.

Colleges can use anti-plagiarism software to spot anyone who might be trying to pass off someone else’s work as their own. We have seen many doctors who have been caught out in this way.

The consequences of plagiarising

Many medics have been tempted to take shortcuts when under the pressure of large workloads, high competition and tight deadlines. Even a single incident – for example in your assessments, CV or applications – could lead to disciplinary action and damage to your career. The pressure of the high competition for specialised training may push some people to take shortcuts when completing their application forms.

However, what may seem like a minor transgression could have serious consequences for a doctor’s career.

The Bahamas Medical Council, in their Code of Professional Conduct (paragraph 28.3), state that a “particularly serious view will be taken in respect of offences involving dishonesty (e.g. obtaining money or goods by deception, forgery, fraud, theft)”.

The Medical Council of Jamaica express similar statements regarding dishonest behaviour in their Guide to Ethical Practice in Jamaica.

We can help you

While it is clearly best to avoid any suspicion altogether, if you do find yourself being accused of plagiarism or dishonesty by the Medical Council, it is important that you contact us to get expert advice at an early stage. The earlier we are involved, the better the chances of limiting any damage to your career.

Case study

Sue was a senior house officer getting ready to apply for her specialised training programme. She did some research, realising she needed to submit an electronic application online, including a standard application form and CV-based questions. She updated her CV just before she was due to go on holiday with friends.

After her holiday, Sue had lots of on-calls to complete, so forgot to check the submission deadline for her application. When she did remember, she found that the deadline was only two days away, and that she was working late shifts on both days.

She began to panic, but then remembered that her housemate Lee had given her a copy of his application from the previous year to refer to. Lee had successfully got his first choice, and coincidentally had applied for the same specialty Sue was looking at. Unable to see another option, Sue used Lee’s application to submit her own before the deadline.

During the selection interview, Sue was presented with a copy of her application, alongside Lee’s from the previous year. The duplication had been picked up by software, and Sue was accused of plagiarism.

Learning points

By copying Lee’s application, Sue risked losing the opportunity to take up a specialty post. Even worse, she could have faced referral to the Medical Council.

Luckily, Sue contacted us immediately for advice. After speaking to a medicolegal consultant, she admitted what she had done. If she had tried to cover it up it would have made the situation much worse.

Sue apologised, acknowledging that she had not taken into account the effect her actions could have had on the public’s perception of the medical profession.

Sue’s application was rejected, but she was able to reapply and get onto a specialised training programme the following year.

Remember – if you need advice on issues similar to those raised in this post, you can email us or call our dedicated student support and advice line on: 0800 952 0442.