15 September 2010

a question of ethics

a week or two ago, we had a lecture and then a lab/seminar/discussion on codes, ethics and regulations. among the many topics discussed was academic and professional integrity. what is right and wrong? are these answers absolute, or subjective? how do morals and the law intersect? how would you respond to a patient who asked you to help them in a way that was illegal? how would you respond to a classmate who asked for information on an assessment that you took before they did?

today we had one such practical skills assessment. to prepare, we were told we would be assigned a partner and each asked to identify ten surface anatomy items from a study list of about fifty. we each would be timed, and graded based on our professionalism and demeanor as well as accuracy of identifications.

i came in feeling pretty good -- i knew my landmarks and could palpate almost all of the pulses, and i was beginning to understand the positioning of the lungs and how to listen to each lobe. as classmates ahead of me finished and rejoined us in the common area, i kept reviewing all the items on the study list. all around me, classmates were sharing the exact items they were tested on, and it soon became clear that there were only two sets of landmarks being assessed, one for each student doctor in the pair.

is it wrong that this bothered me? was i stupid not to take advantage of it? though i couldn't help but overhear, i still kept reviewing everything i was stumbling on, not just the limited material that was actually being tested. when my turn to test came, i nailed every aspect perfectly, but because i studied it, not because someone told me what the doctors wanted to hear.

was the administration trying to set us up for this? logistically, the set-up could have been handled much differently...it seems like they didn't even try that hard. didn't they foresee this happening? did they care? my partner, when it was his turn to be assessed, started right in and correctly found all his marks without the proctor even telling him which landmarks to identify. (i was dumbfounded. dude! you couldn't possibly have been more blatant about knowing the exam questions ahead of time!)

i'm a compassionate person -- if someone asks me for help, i'll do pretty much anything in my power to do so. however, while i'm not going to turn someone in for something like this, for myself, i always play by the rules. while i'm not about to apologize for it, i have noticed -- throughout my education, and echoed again today -- that not compromising that integrity has social consequences and, not infrequently, gets me left out of things.

is this just a little thing? is this not a "real" issue of academic integrity? am i too uptight? or should it be bothersome that many of my peers so nonchalantly defied instructions, and that the instructors themselves didn't seem to mind? this really bothers me...


  1. Did they proctor make any comments when your partner so blatantly "answered" the questions? It seems like a fairly large "mistake" to just glance over!

  2. he didn't say a thing, which i was also kind of incredulous over, and which contributed to my questioning whether the administration even cared/cares about this. they made a big deal about it two weeks ago -- was that just for show? what's going on? am i over-reacting? am i going to spend the rest of my education and career disappointed when colleagues choose self-interest over good and right?

  3. Although the students are to blame, I also hold the administration responsible on this. We are fallible students. If the cookie is too good or too accessible, we're gonna take it, and they knew that.

    They should have constructed the testing situation better so that there wouldn't even be a chance to share answers. A staging area and mandatory exit would have sufficed.