Academic Dishonesty in Health Professions Graduate Students

Conley, Joyce, Linda Thiel, and Kristin Oneail

Background: Nursing is a most trusted profession.  Practicing nurses, nursing faculty and students, are all relied upon to ensure ethical treatment of patients.  Yet recent studies report that academic dishonesty in universities is increasing. It is crucial to understand nursing students' attitudes and behaviors related to cheating in the classroom in establishing interventions to eliminate dishonesty.     


Purpose: The purpose of this study was to examine academic dishonesty of graduate students enrolled in health-related programs within a university setting.   


Subjects:  Participants included graduate students enrolled (fall, 2007) in a private university located in Midwestern U.S.  Students were enrolled in the Family Nurse Practitioner, Nurse Anesthesia, Clinical Nurse Leader, Nursing Education, Health Systems Management and Health Services Administration programs.


Method: A descriptive survey design was used.  With IRB approval from the university, participants completed the Academic Integrity (AI) Survey© (McCabe). The questionnaire measured self-perceptions of the university's Academic Integrity policies, cheating behaviors and perceived seriousness of those behaviors.  The 62-item, forced-choice survey included 3 open-ended questions.  Participants were solicited through the university's email system.  The Web-based survey was hosted by a service external to the university.  Data were analyzed using descriptive statistics.


Results:  Of 86 participants (13% return rate), most were female, aged 30 years and older, and of European decent. Ninety-seven percent of participants indicated they had been informed of AI policies on campus.  Few students indicated reporting student cheating (2%), however 13% reported seeing cheating.  When asked, 'How often…in the past have you cheated?' 52% indicated 'never'.  Perceived seriousness of cheating, such as 'turning in a paper from a paper mill', was reported as serious cheating by 87%.  Students reported common types of cheating as 'working with others when asked for individual work' (26%), and 'receiving unpermitted help on and assignment' (25%).


Conclusions:  Academic dishonesty is an issue.  Findings can be used to develop population specific strategies for graduate nursing faculty to manage academic dishonesty in the classroom.   The study helped identify strategies to improve measurement of academic dishonesty in the classroom, and clarified measures needed to reduce academic dishonesty.  The main study limitation was a small sample size.