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Young Doctors Who Lie

This is something: A study published in the July 20, 2010 Annals of Internal Medicine finds that 5 percent of residency applications contain plagiarized content. The study from Boston’s Brigham & Woman’s Hospital is based on the personal statements of nearly 5,000 residency applicants that were matched against a database of published content.

The authors comment that the study is limited, among other things, by the fact that it was done in just one institution. It makes me wonder if the number is artificially high or potentially too low.

So why would medical students lie?

It’s the era of digital reverberation. Perhaps we’re seeing the digital youth coming of age. Take unbridled access to the worldwide database of human content and couple that with the capacity to cut-and-past and you’ve got a recipe for reverberation. Just look at the blogosphere.

Ignorance is bliss. While a sorry excuse, perhaps they don’t know better. There’s the sad reality that subtle forms of plagiarism have become the standard for students beginning at the secondary level. It’s conceivable that there’s a growing population that doesn’t see this type of “borrowing” as a problem.

Competition. Throw in a little competition (on top of shifting norms and ignorance) and the temptation is greater. The study found that plagiarized content was more common in non-U.S. trained applicants where the demands for a sharp application are all the higher. Brigham & Women’s, incidentally, is a Harvard institution.

And maybe this is nothing new. Perhaps this kind of behavior has been in play since the dawn of medical residency. Technology may now have allowed the exposure of a problem not unique to this generation of doctors.

I don’t have the answer to this one except that education regarding what constitutes unethical academic conduct has to begin early in the educational process. As the father of an 11 year old who has already begun accessing the Web for projects, I can see cut-and-paste easily evolving as a way of life for the next generation.

So if you’re a medical school or residency applicant keep in mind that big brother is watching and his ability to identify academic fraud will only get better. And if you have ideas that aren’t original, you best keep them to yourself.

*This blog post was originally published at 33 Charts*

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