According to new research from Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), more than five percent of applicants submitted plagiarized content in their residency applications. These findings are published in the July 20, 2010 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.
“We wanted to shine a light on this issue because there is still a feeling that plagiarism in residency applications is a rare occurrence,” said Scott Segal, MD, MHCM, vice chairman for education in the Department of Anesthesiology Perioperative and Pain Medicine at BWH and lead author of the paper. “Our research shows that one in 20 – and maybe more – applications contain plagiarized content.”
Segal, Brian Gelfand, MD, co-lead author, and colleagues analyzed data representative of a national model from nearly 5,000 applications to five large residency programs, anesthesia, emergency medicine, internal medicine, obstetrics/gynecology and surgery, at a large academic medical center between September 2005 and March 2007. Using software that has previously been used to detect copied material in other contexts, researchers analyzed the personal statements of each application and found that 5.2 percent of applications contained plagiarized content. While more common in international applicants, plagiarized content was found across all five specialties from applicants from a range of medical schools and even among those with significant academic honors.
In this study, plagiarized content was determined by a “similarity score” issued by the software which scans the essay and assigns it a score between 0 and 100, based on the percentage of the submitted essay that matches a source in the database which includes web pages, printed materials and other submitted essays. In this study, plagiarized content was defined as an application containing more than 10 percent of copied material.
Personal statements are one of the few areas of the application where students are required to submit original free form content. These statements typically revolve around common themes such as motivation for seeking training in a specific specialty or accomplishments and highlights that distinguish an applicant as more qualified than others. In an accompanying editorial, Drs. Maxine Papdakis and David Wofsy, experts in medical education and professionalism, highlight the importance of addressing unprofessional behavior in the application process as part of a broader effort to maintain integrity among the ranks of all physicians.
“Based on what we have learned from this study, we would recommend that this challenge be addressed at a national level where the software capable of detecting plagiarism can be implemented most efficiently,” said Segal. “Previous research suggests that lapses in professionalism during a physician’s training correlate with lapses in professionalism later in their career. Addressing the issue of plagiarism in residency applications can help ensure we are training a responsible future generation of physicians.”