Doctors’ Plagiarism

Plagiarism in GMC FTP MPT Cases - Legal RepresentationPlagiarism and the GMC

Doctors from time to time face allegations of plagiarism (also known as academic misconduct, or assessment irregularity). On occasions, acts of plagiarism are admitted by doctors, while on many other occasions such allegations are denied.

A university or other educational establishment or journal may take disciplinary proceedings against a doctor and may refer them to the GMC, if they have committed plagiarism.

Doctors Defence Service advises doctors and student doctors in relation to allegations of plagiarism at university level, in GMC proceedings, and in relation to journal publications. On occasions, articles will require an urgently submitted erratum. On rare occasions a submitted journal article or essay may have to be withdrawn. In rare instance the journal will have to publish a retraction notice.

The General Medical Council will bring misconduct proceedings against doctors who have plagiarised their own or others’ published and unpublished work. The GMC is very strict on enforcing standards in publications. A doctor does not have to have been deliberately dishonest to face misconduct proceedings. If a doctor has a senior role in academia or a strong presence in academic writing, the failure to adhere to appropriate standards will be seen as more serious.

Allegations of Plagiarism

The GMC plagiarism allegation might read:

That being registered under the Medical Act 1983 (as amended):

    1. You were a student for Telford-Pansy University (‘the University’) between October 2015 and July 2016;
    1. On 1 April 2016 you submitted an essay to your educational establishment titled ‘Statistical Anomalies in Aortic Dissection’ (‘the Essay’);
    1. You signed a declaration which verified that you had complied with the University’s policy on plagiarism;
    1. You knew that:
        1. the Essay included plagiarised material;
        2. within the student declaration you verified a statement which:

(a) was untrue;

(b) you knew to be untrue.

    1. Your conduct as set out at paragraph 2 was dishonest by reason of paragraphs 3 and 4.

And that by reason of the matters set out above your fitness to practise is impaired because of your misconduct.

This is just one example of a misconduct allegation that a doctor might face in GMC proceedings. Doctors might face allegations of plagiarism in a number of settings and scenarios.

Types of Plagiarism (Definitions)

Plagiarism is not always easy to define and an institution’s definition will be a useful source of information when seeking to avoid or identify plagiarism. Some online tools such as Turnitin can be a useful way of avoiding or identifying plagiarism.

Plagiarism, in short, is to pass off one’s own or another’s previously published or submitted work as a new piece of work, without proper citation, quotation and bibliography. It can also occur where there is an overuse of material, such as paraphrasing or using other people’s ideas or statistics, as though one has invented a concept or premise based on data or ideas of others.

Plagiarism (and cheating) can also come about from unattributed copying, self-citation without attribution, theft of other people’s work in part or in whole, the use of AI to write copy of correct language: as this would not be the doctor’s own work.

This summary is not an exhaustive list.

Intent to Plagiarise, Incompetence or Innocent Error?

Plagiarism can of course be committed without intent, through naivity or carelessness. Students who have previously been educated overseas might not have had the training to fully appreciate the rules on plagiarism, and this might be relevant to the level of sanction that is imposed, and whether the doctor had been deliberately dishonest. There may be other important mitigating or other features to the history which could assist a doctor in obtaining a good outcome. Each case turns on its own facts and needs careful analysis.

GMC Outcomes

A carefully considered submission could lead to closure of a plagiarism allegation on paper at the Rule 4 or Rule 7 stage of GMC investigations. Alternatively, the case might be closed with a GMC warning.

In more serious cases, particularly where there is an allegation of dishonesty, the case might be referred to a fitness to practise hearing, where a range of sanctions (inlcuding suspension and erasure from the GMC register) are available to a tribunal if an allegation is found proved.

Legal Assistance

For further legal advice and guidance in relation to plagiarism issues, contact Doctors Defence Service on: 0800 10 88 739