May 23, 2017

Matt Saunders, flickr

In the six years or so that I’ve blogged at HealthCetera, I’ve written about the use of reflective writing in clinical practice and education, and I’ve examined poems that elucidate aspects of health and health policy. And in that time the post of mine that has been viewed most often—by far—is one I wrote three years ago, “Nurses and Patients and Plagiarism: The Consequences Aren’t Merely Academic.”

 

Why is there such an enduring interest in plagiarism? My post looked at a couple of literature reviews that suggest academic dishonesty among nursing students may have implications for ethical nursing practice. A new search shows the problem is far from resolved.

 

Last November, for example, the UK weekly journal Nursing Standard reported the results of its investigation that found thousands of UK nursing students had committed academic fraud, 79% of the cases involving plagiarism (the article is free but requires a login).

 

And in March Australian researchers Lynch and colleagues published an integrative review on plagiarism in nursing education (login required) in Journal of Clinical Nursing. The study illuminates several fascinating aspects of the plagiarism problem in nursing:

 

  • Students’ cultural or language background does not affect their likelihood of plagiarizing.
  • Many nursing students simply do not understand the basics of referencing and paraphrasing.
  • Inadvertent or accidental plagiarism is common.
  • Students are more likely to plagiarize if they are at risk of failing a course.
  • As unethical behavior in academia becomes “neutralized” and then “normalized” to nursing students, they are more likely to continue to engage in unethical behavior, with serious implications for clinical practice.
  • Some faculty find it an “enormous burden” to deal with academic dishonesty.
  • The threat of punishment has not reduced plagiarism in nursing education.

 

That last point seems important to emphasize. Just today a writer in Inside Higher Ed, Jennifer A. Mott-Smith, suggests that unless a student submits a paper she paid someone to write or copied and pasted it entirely, academic plagiarism should not be punished—that it instead should be seen as a teaching opportunity to help students “continue to practice the difficult skill of using sources.”

 

That has been my approach as a writing instructor with nursing students. But this can’t mean pretending it’s not happening. Rather, it requires something extra from nursing faculty and institutions—namely, real time spent on teaching writing as a process in which the student learns to think. Otherwise, the copying culture will not abate.

 

I’d like to hear from others, both nursing students and faculty. Is plagiarism an issue for you? How have you handled it?