Academic Integrity: State of the Issue in Nursing

I was recently in an “all school” meeting at my University, where we offer courses via a variety of modalities. Some of the what I might call “more traditional” faculty expressed concerns about online learning and maintaining academic integrity. Having writerbeen an online student for both my MSN and PhD degrees, and having taught in nursing education programs online for the last 6 years, I must admit that I was sort of internally laughing at some of the concerns presented, such as “what if the person is not really posting their discussions?. “how can me be sure there are the student’s papers”, and “how do we know it is the student taking the exam?”. I mean we have to assume a certain level of academic integrity and honesty from our students, right?

But today I took pause when Peggy Chinn sent the following link to me from The Chronicle, which frequently discusses issues that Academicians face:

The article is written by a person who purportedly writes students’ papers for them for a fee. This is of course disturbing for those of us who work in a profession such as nursing, where we expect students to maintain a certain level of honesty and ethical comportment due to the ethical situations they will face in the practice setting.

Meanwhile, we use tools such as turnitin or safeassign in the academic setting to determine if students are being unethical by copying sources from books, websites, or previously submitted papers from various schools that use these services. I also have used my intuition or basic comparison skills of a student’s capability to detect dishonesty with writing and then verified these concerns formally. However, this obviously does not address the issue of students’ not maintaining academic integrity by paying for others to complete their work, or perhaps even having a friend or significant other complete their work for them.

In the future, if my science fiction mind is right, it could be that technology addresses this issue better (ie, the student identity as they are writing or taking a quiz is maintained via a retinal or fingerprint scan). Until the technology catches up, what can we do as nurses to maintain academic honesty and integrity? I think particularly in nursing academia, we may be acting unethically if we know these issues exist, yet we don’t find ways to actively expose and problem solve them.

I still recall the student in a masters entry level into nursing ethics course who submitted a paper that was about 80% plagiarized from a 10 year old textbook. As I began to read through her work, I noticed that her “paper writing voice” seemed far more scholarly then her “discussion postings writing voice” seemed. I began to copy and past sections of her paper into google, and sure enough, this older nursing ethics textbook showed up again and again, as she had directly copied and pasted. I went through the formal academic integrity process for this school and the student’s response was simply that she had used the book for research, but what she had turned into me was the draft, not the final version she had intended to turn in to me.SO really her error was simply in turning in the wrong paper.

Ultimately, with the support of the head of the program, I issued the student a 0 grade for the assignment and she failed the course (the written assignment was worth 50% of the grade), though she appealed to retake the class or change the grade. The process was then out of my hands and the dean would decide the student’s fate. I was very concerned that this pre-licensure graduate nursing student may be allowed to continue on in the program through the appeals process, and yet I was also satisfied that I had met my personal ethical obligation to protect society by upholding academic integrity in this course.

What are your experiences with addressing the ethical issues we face in nursing academia and nursing practice?

10 thoughts on “Academic Integrity: State of the Issue in Nursing

  1. Carey, well said. I read the article link that your talking about here in your posting and I was stunned as well by the thought of people paying someone to do their work…Ive always been “a geek in the classroom” and enjoyed learning~ enjoyed researching and then writing my findings so the thought of allowing someone else to be my voice was(is) disturbing. I have not had the priveledge (yet) to be on the teacher side of this fence but have been a life long student~ I have been under a tremendous amount of pressure at times during an acedemic year where Ive stayed up late to finish studying for a test or finished a paper and had to get up to go to work in a few hours and I have never once thought to not do that…to finish my work. I think it all comes down to your personal ethics. You can lead a horse to water but you cannot make him drink…Sadly there are many people in our profession who are unethical~ though ethics are what we stand on. I have been a preceptor for many years. Most young nurses are eager, smart and ethical. Some are not. Ive had a couple that I fear for…lying is a second language that they are fluent in…
    Anyway, while I think that coming up with ways to prevent plagerism, lying and having someone else do your work much harder to get away with a necessary measure…I think that teaching young nurses the gift of their job, the true gift of integrity and self respect and the true meaning of professionalism might be even more necessary.
    The stress of the program may be what the student uses as an excuse for why they would have someone else write their papers…but the true reason is lack of self respect for themselves, lack of respect of the profession they want to work in and lack of respect for authority. The one’s who will suffer are their patients, their collegues and the nursing name we all hold dear.
    Interesting article for thought.


  2. Bobbi, this reminds me of when I was applying to enter my doctoral program; I had just found out about the program, the deadline was already passed to apply and they gace me a one week extension to get my materials together to apply. At the same time I was finishing up my Master’s comprehensive exam paper (40 pages), and I now had to write a personal biography (10 pages) and write an essay about integral education (5 pages), about which I knew nothing. Surprisingly as I searched for the two educators I was supposed to write on, I found several sites willing to write the essay and they had a body of essays already written on the topic. Instead I worked hard and got everything done in a week, and wow, what a sense of accomplishment.

    It concerns me that these folks who buy essays and other work online are also not gaining this sense of growth and accomplishment, let alone not really gaining the knowledge needed to practice at a higher level.


  3. Bobbi – thanks for your contribution to this discussion! I agree with your thoughts about what is truly lacking when someone exhibits academic dishonesty. I’d like to think “nurses or future nurses wouldn’t do that”, but clearly they do. Maybe curing lateral violence will simultaneously help this issue.

    I am located in a remote area (3 hours from the nearest university), so I have spent a lot of time looking for online positions that have something to do with nursing and academics. One position I came across numerous times was called “tutoring”, but in my gut it felt like I would be writing papers for people. I didn’t pursue that one any further. I was appalled and frightened to read the article you shared, Carey. In my online teaching experience (Masters level nursing students) we ran every paper through a plagiarism checker. Most of the time “violations” were caused by lack of understanding how to reference, paraphrase, etc. This I don’t mind, since it’s a “teachable moment”.

    I have recently taken a position coordinating and teaching a fully online (interdisciplinary) masters program in diabetes education & management ( I am now trying to figure out how we will handle these issues and I would love to hear more comments!


  4. Pingback: Academic Integrity: State of the Issue in Nursing | NurseManifest Blog | Nurse Educator Praxis

  5. When someone acts without integrity, are they not in effect displaying the symptoms that necessitate healing? Perhaps they don’t recognize these behaviors as symptoms but as nursing leaders, especially holistic nursing leaders, we should…. yes? Finding rules and procedures to deter this behavior is analogous to giving pepcid for the acid stomach. It may help for awhile, but it doesn’t get to the root problem. Treating both the acute and chronic underlying problem (an integrative approach) may indeed require that we put in new security systems to augment our advancing technological applications. But what new or upgraded processes are we putting into place to ensure the integrity of nurses from the moment they put their application for nursing schools in? What new or upgraded processes are in place to ensure that nurses throughout their careers have integrity checkups? What new or upgraded processes are in place to ensure that our retired nurses, with all of life’s credentials still have a place to tell their stories and impart their wisdom? I wonder, if nurses become grounded in a process of healing for themselves from the moment they hit the “nursing” doorstep and had ongoing preventative checkups throughout their careers, perhaps we would eventually see less symptoms of integrity failure and more integrity resilience.


  6. In reading Suzanne’s comments on academic integrity and nursing I am a bit concerned. Is it the responsibility of the nursing profession to question the integrity of every nurse or everyone who wants to be a nurse? I don’t think that is possible and even if it were is that where we want nursing to go in the future? We enter nursing as a calling to care for others it is a very spiritual decision that most don’t take lightly. Nursing is a profession. That said we all should have professional integrity but not through questioning our nursing colleagues ethics or integrity. This just leads to more lateral violence and turns us on ourselves. I can’t imagine that anyone who isn’t doing their own work would have much of a career in nursing and in short are probably going nowhere anyway because they don’t have the knowledge they should to be successful in nursing. The bigger concern for me is are we producing nurses who are competent to practice? If someone has cheated their way through nursing school even should they pass boards are they competent to practice nursing? They are from my perspective a malpractice risk and jeopardize the the safety of our patients and families while preventing high quality of care.


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