Individuals that are seeking to pursue a career in nursing must complete a challenging program at an accredited educational institution. Nursing students are expected to complete a rigorous process where knowledge is gained and clinical skills are developed. Nursing and other professional medical fields also have high standards for personal integrity, honesty, and ethics; therefore, nursing schools do not tolerate acts of academic dishonesty or related misconduct.
According to the American Nurses Association, nursing professionals must abide by the Code of Ethics for Nurses with Interpretive Statements, which outlines the emphasis on quality and ethical responsibilities in the profession. In recent years, the Center for Ethics and Human Rights has also provided guidance to nursing students regarding these “non-negotiable” standards for values and integrity.
The Expectations of Academic Institutions
Students admitted to a nursing school must generally attest to having a thorough understanding of the institution's policies regarding misconduct. These written guidelines are commonly called the school's honor code, academic, and behavioral code, etc. One of the key topics covered is academic integrity.
Prevalence of Dishonest Academic Behavior in Nursing School
Acts of academic dishonesty are those that offer a student some wrongful advantage that is intended to improve their scholastic performance. A recent study was conducted by the International Center for Integrity and McCabe using a sample of more than 70,000 undergraduate nursing students. They found that roughly 39% of respondents had cheated on an exam and approximately 62% had cheated on forms of written assignments. Their findings suggested that nursing students were less likely to cheat compared to other disciplines; however, there were comparatively more likely to engage in “collaborative” cheating.
Collaborative cheating or “collusion” refers to instances of academic dishonesty that occur involving more than one student. This is common in working group assignments such as papers or clinical exercises. For example, a situation where three students are expected to produce a plan of care assignment; however, one student alone completes all the work.
Working group assignments are common in nursing school, as an emphasis is often placed on team building and working together to achieve goals. Students may also collude by aiding or abetting one another. Examples may include improper communication during an exam, sharing exam questions with others, or completing an assignment for another student. In extreme cases, a student may pay another to complete a paper for them or one student may take an exam for another.
Plagiarism is often classified as a form of intellectual theft that involves using someone else's work without properly attributing or crediting them. It may involve taking opinions or findings from another source and submitting it for academic credit as if it were original. This may occur in assignments such as term papers, dissertations, or other projects and is largely viewed by educators as a substantial ethical and moral concern.
Plagiarism sometimes may occur unintentionally. One common example of unintentional plagiarism in nursing schools involves requirements for work to be completed using the American Psychological Association (APA) formatting style. Often faculty will neglect to properly train students in APA, which may result in “parenthetical citation errors and improper referencing of sources.”
The internet is an excellent tool that allows students to promptly access a wealth of information. In recent years, various plagiarism detection software programs have emerged; therefore, students should be aware that academic institutions may employ them in efforts to reveal this form of misconduct.
Plagiarism in Clinical Practice
Plagiarism that occurs in the classroom during nursing school can also transition to the clinical environment and lead to questions regarding a nurse's character and professionalism. This is most commonly demonstrated in clinical documentation, such as in a nurse's patient notes. Nursing professionals may be inclined to use “generic” formats or templates that may result in false documentation.
In today's electronic health record (EHR) systems, a nurse may begin to adopt bad habits of applying “one size fits all” documentation that is easily copied for subsequent patient entries. This also may occur when nurses complete subjective, objective, assessment, and plan (SOAP) notes that are not distinctive and this redundancy may be discovered during an audit or when otherwise subjected to scrutiny.
Falsification or Fabrication of Academic Documents
Falsifying or altering a document without authorization is a potentially serious form of misconduct. This may occur by citing or referencing false or nonexistent resources to support one's findings in a paper. A student may attempt to alter academic documents, grade reports, or other records, or alter a graded exam and attempt to resubmit it. Another example would be forging the signature of an instructor, professor, or another university official on a letter of recommendation.
Clinically-Based Forms of Misconduct
Nursing students may also face allegations of misconduct in a clinical education setting. One example is a violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which was implemented in 1996. HIPAA involves requirements to maintain the security and privacy of critical information, such as patient medical records. An example would be violating a patient's rights by breaching their privacy by discussing their condition with unrelated third-parties.
Process for Potential Academic or Professional Ethical Violations
Students that are accused of a possible violation of academic integrity will be subject to their school's policies and procedures. Students are generally permitted to choose an adviser that can assist and support them. It is strongly recommended that students in these situations confer with an attorney that is familiar with student disciplinary matters. Many schools will summon the student and their adviser to a hearing where statements are made, questions answered, and the allegations are evaluated by a panel that may consist of administrators, students, etc.
Potential Sanctions Imposed
In most cases, the severity of the penalties imposed will reflect the severity of the act of misconduct. As explained, nursing school students are held to a high standard within the profession and should expect to face suspension or expulsion, particularly when the misconduct is unquestionably intentional.
Potential Immediate Consequences
If the violations are proven, the student will face penalties, which may include:
- Probation: A specified time where the student is expected to adhere to all policies and any subsequent violations will likely result in suspension or dismissal from the institution
- Suspension: The student will be separated from the college or university for a specified period with an option to return
- If during an academic term, the student can expect to receive no credit for current coursework
- Any tuition, fees, and housing that has been paid for is likely unrecoverable
- The suspension may also extend to removal from campus housing, student employment, athletic participation, membership in student organizations, and more
- Expulsion (dismissal): The student is immediately dismissed from the institution and ineligible for re-admittance
Potential Long-Term and Collateral Consequences
In most cases where disciplinary sanctions are imposed, the student's record or transcript will have information related to the action added. This is likely to create difficulties in being admitted into another school, internships, advanced nursing programs, and potentially cause challenges for professional licensing. For example, the Academic Integrity Policy at the School of Nursing at Johns Hopkins University has provisions regarding expulsion that include “forfeiture of all rights and degrees” and “permanent notation of the expulsion” remains on records and transcripts for a minimum period of seven years.
The Appeals Process
Students are typically allowed to appeal an adverse ruling. The university typically requires that written intent to appeal be received within a short time-frame and be solely based on certain grounds. Having assistance from a seasoned lawyer is critical in the appeals process.
For an example with will outline the provisions concerning the appeals process for academic misconduct rulings at the University of Iowa's School of Nursing as follows:
- A written request to appeal must be received by the Executive Associate Dean within five days
- The only grounds for appeal include:
- The investigation or disciplinary process was compromised by procedural violation
- The findings were not supported by the evidence
- New evidence has now emerged
- The sanctions imposed are excessive for the violation
Importance of Speaking to a Seasoned Student Misconduct Lawyer
Allegations of academic misconduct against a nursing school student can result in devastating ramifications that can shatter your goal of pursuing a career as a medical professional. Institutions of higher education today are operating in a highly competitive market and are often facing substantial budgetary challenges. Overworked faculty members and administrators assigned to handle disciplinary concerns may proceed hastily without recognizing the proper procedural rights of an accused student. Having support and assistance from a knowledgeable attorney-adviser is the best course of action to protect your future.
Representation for Nursing Students Accused of Academic Misconduct
Have you been accused of an act of academic misconduct? You have far too much at stake to take these allegations lightly and jeopardize your plans. Joseph D. Lento is an experienced student academic misconduct attorney that is familiar with these matters and will ensure you are treated fairly and pursue a positive outcome. Contact the office today at (888) 535-3686 for additional information.