In recent years the medical literature has reflected an increasing interest in the medical ethics of physicians and medical students. Studies have shown that cheating in medical school is frequent enough to cause concern, that there is a positive correlation between students' ethical attitude and their ethical behavior and between cheating in school and cheating in patient care.
This study aims to examine student attitudes towards cheating, their self-reported behavior, analyze cultural and sub-cultural differences, and to reach practical conclusions that might be incorporated into the teaching of ethics in medical schools.
Anonymous questionnaires were distributed to 193 first and second year students of the Israeli and American programs at Ben-Gurion University. The questionnaire consisted of fifty three multiple choice questions. The students were asked to state their opinion on various cheating practices at medical school and dishonesty in patient care, to estimate how they would resolve various ethical dilemmas and to provide some demographic information. The results were analyzed using SPSS. T-tests, Chi-Square tests, one-way analysis of variance, and Pearson and Spearman's coefficients, all used as appropriate.
Completed questionnaires were returned by 141 students (73%). The majority of the students regard cheating in an exam (93%) or on a final paper (85%) to be morally unacceptable behavior. Copying during an exam is regarded as more morally unacceptable than copying a homework exercise. The majority of the students consider faking a patient's laboratory results to be morally unacceptable behavior (98%). American students regard copying a homework exercise, reconstructing exam questions for the benefit of next year students and giving answers to a fellow student during an exam to be more morally unacceptable in comparison to the Israeli students. Married students consider cheating to be more morally unacceptable than unmarried students. A positive correlation was found between religiosity and the position that cheating is a morally negative practice. There is a positive correlation between cheating in high school and the position that cheating is morally acceptable. In addition, the more often a student cheated in high school the more that student claims that he or she would cheat if they were sure that they would not be caught. Amongst Israeli students, there was a correlation between the view that the faculty did not treat them well, and the position that cheating is morally acceptable, No correlation was found between cheating and gender, age, birth country of parents, army service, or type of high school.
Students' attitude toward cheating is significantly determined by the cultural and sub-cultural characteristics of each student's background. Ethical discussions in which an ethical code would be formed, moral dilemmas analyzed and cultural differences addressed, may help improve the ethical behavior of students in medical school, and thus improve their ethical practice in patient care.