Why Academic Integrity is High Stakes in Medical School

MARCH 3, 2017 — 

On my first day of medical school, I gathered with approximately 110 of my fellow classmates, donned a starched and creased white coat, and promised, in front of our friends and family, to “First, do no harm” throughout our careers. We were eager, excited and ready to begin, and dove headfirst into a program that could only be described as overwhelming. I went from being an undergraduate student with a frantic, last-minute cramming study style, to a medical student spending hours every night trying to learn as much as I could, preparing for dozens upon dozens of exams.

The pressure for us to learn and succeed is high, knowing that the material we cover now is directly applicable to patients that we will be seeing in only a few short years. Blowing off important material or exams may mean we don’t learn or understand something important, and that can have direct consequences for our patients. When you can attach a patient’s face to the material you’re learning, everything becomes high stakes.

This sets Academic Integrity into an interesting framework. The high volume, high pressure learning environment demands a lot of med students – and it can make you feel incredibly vulnerable.

In these moments, we remember the promise we made at the very beginning of our degree.

Integrity goes beyond exams and assignments – it is part of the oath that we took when we pledged ourselves to the art of medicine. We swear to respect the work of the physicians who have forged a path for us to follow, we promise to uphold the privacy of our patients, and we recognize that we are members of society who have obligations to be honest, ethical and just.

Integrity is a critical part of the practice of medicine, and the steps we take to become physicians who practice according to that oath begin here, in medical school.

Academic integrity is not just about honesty in completing our degrees, but about how we build the foundation to become physicians. Though we feel overwhelmed at almost every point, we have to remember that we go through this not only for a fancy (and expensive) piece of paper at the end of four years – but because we want to go out and serve patients to the best of our abilities.

Integrity matters not just in our schooling, but throughout our lives – and we will be better doctors for it.

Published on UM Today News on March 3, 2017


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