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Surviving Medical School: Avoiding plagiarism

05 March 2021

The Medical Council of Hong Kong expects medical students 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 All published and unpublished material, whether in manuscript, printed or electronic form, is covered under this definition.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 short-cuts 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 high competition may push some people to take shortcuts when completing application forms.

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

The Medical Council of Hong Kong Code of Professional Conduct (Section 27.2) states that a practitioner is liable to disciplinary proceedings if they are convicted of a criminal offence punishable by imprisonment, in particularly, a serious view will be taken on offences relating to dishonesty (e.g. obtaining money or good by deception, forgery, fraud, theft).  Section 26.3 also states that the issuance of any certificate or similar document ‘containing statements which are untrue, misleading or otherwise improper’ could lead to disciplinary proceedings.

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, 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

Dr Wong was a House Officer, getting ready to apply for her Specialist training post. 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 Dr Wong 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 on both days.

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

During the selection interview Dr Wong was presented with a copy of her application, however the duplication had been picked up by software and Dr Wong was accused of plagiarism.

Learning points

By copying Dr Chan’s application, Dr Wong risked losing the opportunity to take up a specialist post. Even worse, she could have faced referral to the Medical Council of Hong Kong for breaching the Code of Professional Conduct.

Luckily Dr Wong 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.

Dr Wong 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.

Dr Wong's application was rejected, but she was able to reapply and get a Specialist Training post the following year.

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