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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 29/01/2020

The 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 All published and unpublished material, whether in manuscript, printed or electronic form, is covered under this definition.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

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.

Most colleges and deaneries use anti-plagiarism software to spot anyone who might be trying to pass off someone else’s work as their own. We’ve 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, damage to your career, and harm your chances of registering with the GMC.

Junior doctors applying for core and specialty training face tight deadlines for submission of applications, which take no account of individual on-call commitments. This, combined with the pressure of high competition for training positions, 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 junior doctor’s career. Trusts will usually consider dishonesty on an application form a disciplinary matter, which could lead to the termination of a doctor’s contract of employment.

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 in Good Medical Practicesays 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.

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 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 career.

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 lates 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 successfully got 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 taken into account 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 get a training post the following year.

Remember – if you need advice on issues similar to those raised in this post, our dedicated student support and advice line is here for you on 0800 952 0442.

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