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Surviving Medical School: Avoiding plagiarism

Post date: 29/01/2020 | Time to read article: 3 mins

The information within this article was correct at the time of publishing. Last updated 07/07/2021

The General Medical Council (GMC) 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 All published and unpublished material, whether in manuscript, printed or electronic form, is covered under this definition.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

There are a number of ways to avoid an allegation of plagiarism at medical school, such as including references for any information you include in your work from other publications or authors.  Unfortunately, people sometimes forget to do this, particularly in relation to online material.

Here are some tips:

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

Most universities use anti-plagiarism software which can recognise incidents of plagiarism and some of our student members have consequently found themselves subject to investigations.

The consequences of plagiarising

Both students and qualified doctors are sometimes tempted to take short cuts when under significant pressure from heavy workloads, fierce competition for training posts and tight deadlines. It is important to understand the impact of a single incident of plagiarism involving, for example, an assessment, your CV or a job application. Any of these could result in disciplinary action, damage to your career, and a GMC investigation as a result of the seriousness of an allegation of dishonesty against a doctor.

If a doctor is intentionally deceitful in order to gain a financial advantage, they may be guilty of a criminal offence under the Fraud Act (2006). GMC guidance says that you must always be honest about your experience, qualifications and position, particularly when applying for posts. The GMC is known to take a keen interest in situations where a doctor’s probity is called into question.

During past application processes, the GMC has seen a number of cases where junior doctors were accused of plagiarism on application forms. This led to sanctions ranging from warnings through to erasure from the medical register. Many of the doctors involved had reproduced material from websites, with others being found to have copied from their colleagues.

Case study

Leah was in her F2 year, getting ready to apply for her specialty 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 Leah 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 Dan had given her a copy of his application from the previous year to refer to. Dan had been offered his first choice, and coincidentally had applied for the same specialty Leah was looking at. Unable to see another option, Leah used Dan’s application to submit her own before the deadline.

In January, as she was waiting to hear whether she’d been shortlisted, Leah was asked to visit her educational supervisor. When she arrived, she was presented with a copy of her application, alongside Dan’s from the previous year. The duplication had been picked up by software, and Leah was accused of plagiarism.

Learning points

By copying Dan’s application, Leah risked losing the opportunity to take up a specialty post. Even worse, she could have faced disciplinary action by the trust and a referral to the GMC for breaching Good Medical Practice.

Luckily Leah 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.

Leah apologised, acknowledging that she had not considered the effect her actions could have had on the public’s perception of the medical profession.

Leah’s application was rejected, but she was able to reapply and was offered a training post the following year.

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 your university or the GMC, 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 future career.

Email us or call our dedicated student support and advice line: 0800 952 0442

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