Objectives Medical students, as tomorrow’s doctors, are responsible for their patients’ health; cheating may affect their academic knowledge and clinical skills. The main purpose of this study was to investigate the frequency of and attitudes towards academic disintegrity among medical students at Tehran University of Medical Sciences (TUMS).
Methods Anonymous questionnaires including questions about various types of academic disintegrity were distributed among medical students during the clerkship and internship phases of the curriculum. Randomised response technique (RRT) was used to maintain the responders’ privacy. Because the study design guaranteed the confidentiality of respondents, the TUMS Institutional Review Board declared that formal ethical approval was not required.
Results A total of 124 students were enrolled in this study, of whom 63 were in the clerkship phase and 61 were in the internship phase. Of these respondents, 29% (n = 36) were male. The most frequently reported type of academic disintegrity was found to be ‘impersonating an absent student in a class’ (93%) and the least frequent to be ‘legitimising absences by using bribes’ (5%). Only a small number of interns considered ‘buying hospital shifts’, ‘selling hospital shifts’, ‘impersonating an absent student’ and ‘helping others to cheat in examinations’ as representing academic disintegrity. Approximately one third of participants stated that the RRT increased their confidence in anonymity and 90% of students found the use of RRT not difficult.
Conclusions Academic integrity is widely disrespected in different ways among medical students. Effective policies and interventions are required to control these misbehaviours in future doctors in order to optimise medical practice. Almost all respondents found it not difficult to use the RRT; the technique proved to be an effective and easily applied method of eliciting truthful responses to sensitive questions and represents an alternative to conventional anonymising techniques.