Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Cheating in Medical School? A Personal Tale in the Wake of the Dartmouth Scandal

A recent NYT article about cheating at Dartmouth reminded me of some hermetic knowledge of cheating in medical school that I have kept mostly secret for almost a quarter century. Without commenting on the Dartmouth case, I will relate this tale to demonstrate that cheating in medical school is real, and my experience is the opposite that of Dartmouth - administrators turned a blind eye to cheating, denying its existence until confronted by direct evidence of it.

In 1996, the "final exam" after an 8-week internal medicine rotation was a so-called "shelf board" exam, which I have always understood as meaning a copy of some prior year's board examination, or a preparation test for it. In medical school in late August 1996, I had the top score on this examination during the first "rotation" of 8 blocks that we did during the third year. I was pleased by this and considered it vindication of my method of not "studying to the test" but instead reading Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine (13th edition) cover to cover during the second and third years of medical school. I later noted that the top score crept up as the year went on, and I was bemused. Were others reading Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine? Doubtful. There were rumors of a "question bank" that previous takers of the exam compiled as the year went on, and shared with one another. If the "shelf exam" was only changed each year this would make sense. Alternatively, the kids were just getting smarter as the year progressed.