One disturbing trend in higher education is the growing evidence of cheating by students in graduate and professional programs. Cheating in business schools, in particular, is widespread as Don McCabe, Linda Trevino, and Kenneth Butterfield documented in a 2006 study on cheating by graduate students.
Grad students are just a few steps away from occupying positions in respected professions, and you'd hope that they would have had a chance to mature and develop a strong ethical compass. You would also hope that they were really learning what they are supposed to be learning before they hit the real world -- especially if they are training to become doctors.
Alas, there has long been evidence that even medical students cheat. As a team of scholars reported in a study published in 1996:
A survey of 2,459 medical students found that 39% had witnessed cheating in their first 2 years of medical school, and 66.5% had heard about cheating. About 5% reported having cheated during that time.
Another team of researchers, publishing in 1980, found the following:
A study to determine the frequency and correlates of cheating among medical students found that cheating is extremely frequent (87.6 percent) among premedical students and less frequent (58.2 percent) but still significant among medical students. The most disturbing finding was the positive correlation between cheating in school and cheating in patient care.
Also from the 1980s came reports of widespread cheating by newly minted young doctors on their medical licensing exams, a form of cheating which appears to remain not uncommon, with a regular trickle of cases -- such as the sanctioning last year of 139 doctors for cheating by getting the answers beforehand to certification tests administered by the American Board of Internal Medicine.
Now comes this story about cheating by medical students at Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, New York:
A student reported to Upstate officials in mid-February that students enrolled in the class were collaborating on taking tests online. Upstate said it immediately alerted faculty and urged students in the class to come forward with information on the matter. It subsequently received e-mails from about 100 of the 140 students enrolled in the class.
Some students acknowledged they collaborated on quizzes, but Upstate has not determined yet how many may have violated the student code, Scheinman said.
Faculty members began interviewing students today to determine the extent of the violations and remedies, Scheinman said. That process should be completed next week.
The course is designed to train students to analyze medical literature. Quizzes are administered online and students are allowed to review notes and course readings.
Doctors remain among the most trusted professionals in America, a country where trust in many institutions is alarmingly low. Doctors have put that trust at risk by their overly cozy ties with makers of drugs and devices, as we document elsewhere on this site. If more medical schools are tainted by cheating scandals, it could be another blow to public trust in doctors.