Medical College of Wisconsin
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Multi-institutional study of self-reported attitudes and behaviors of general surgery residents about ethical academic practices in test taking. J Surg Educ 2013 Nov-Dec;70(6):777-81



Pubmed ID




Scopus ID

2-s2.0-84892773669   2 Citations


PURPOSE: Correlation exists between people who engage in academic dishonesty as students and unethical behavior once in practice. Previously, we assessed the attitudes of general surgery residents and ethical practices in test taking at a single institution. Most residents had not participated in activities they felt were unethical, yet what constituted unethical behavior was unclear. We sought to verify these results in a multi-institutional study.

METHODS: A scenario-based survey describing potentially unethical activities related to the American Board of Surgery In-training Examination (ABSITE) was administered. Participants were asked about their knowledge of or participation in the activities and whether the activity was unethical. Program directors were surveyed about the use of ABSITE results for resident evaluation and promotion.

RESULTS: Ten programs participated in the study. The resident response rate was 67% (186/277). Of the respondents, 43% felt that memorizing questions to study for future examinations was unethical and 50% felt that using questions another resident memorized was unethical. Most felt that buying (86%) or selling (79%) questions was unethical. Significantly more senior than junior residents have memorized (30% vs 16%; p = 0.04) or used questions others memorized (33% vs 12%; p = 0.002) to study for future ABSITE examinations and know of other residents who have done so (42% vs 20%; p = 0.004). Most programs used results of the ABSITE in promotion (80%) and set minimum score expectations and consequences (70%).

CONCLUSION: Similar to our single-institution study, residents had not participated in activities they felt to be unethical; however the definition of what constitutes cheating remains unclear. Differences were identified between senior and junior residents with regard to memorizing questions for study. Cheating and unethical behavior is not always clear to the learner and represents an area for further education.

Author List

Grignol VP, Grannan K, Sabra J, Cromer RM, Jarman B, Dent D, Sticca RP, Nelson TM, Kukora JS, Daley BJ, Treat RW, Termuhlen PM


Robert W. Treat PhD Associate Professor in the Academic Affairs department at Medical College of Wisconsin

MESH terms used to index this publication - Major topics in bold

Academic Medical Centers
Cross-Sectional Studies
Education, Medical, Graduate
Ethics, Professional
General Surgery
Internship and Residency
Needs Assessment
Problem-Based Learning
Self Report
Surveys and Questionnaires
Test Taking Skills
United States