The Plagiarism Pandemic: Do We Have a Cure?

By: Jack Donahue, PharmD candidate 2023 and Holly Divine PharmD, BCACP, BCGP, CDCES, FAPhA

The Scope of the Problem 

Plagiarism is one of the most serious academic offenses a student can commit. Repercussions for students who plagiarize can range from failure of the assignment to course failure to even program expulsion. Dishonesty in the classroom has also been found to correlate with dishonesty among healthcare professionals in practice1. Within pharmacy education, there is little data pertaining to the prevalence of and perceptions of plagiarism among students. One study analyzed both undergraduate and postgraduate pharmacy students’ perceptions of plagiarism.2 Although over 90% of students from both groups were aware their university had a policy regarding plagiarism, less than 30% and 40%, respectively,  were aware of what was included in those policies.2 In addition, when presented with examples of plagiarism, many were unable to correctly identify what is and is not considered plagiarism. In this study, 31% of undergraduate and 41% of postgraduate students incorrectly identified the following statement as plagiarism: “quoting a paragraph exactly with quotation marks, indentation, in text referencing and entry in the reference list”.2 This data suggests students may be starting and ending pharmacy school with little change in their understanding of plagiarism. While some acts of plagiarism can be attributed to intentional academic dishonesty, a lack of understanding regarding plagiarism and the associated serious repercussions may account for many  cases. This begs the question:

If pharmacy students lack an understanding of plagiarism, how can faculty facilitate education to prevent and correct this issue?

Strategies to Combat Plagiarism

Educators have attempted to combat plagiarism using their professional experience and expertise. Some examples include3

  • Creating and enforcing clear policies regarding plagiarism to increase student awareness of the expected standards and consequences
  • Using software to detect plagiarism to keep students cognizant of potential plagiarism
  • Providing education on what constitutes plagiarism, how to avoid plagiarism, and how to improve writing, research, and referencing skills 
  • Promoting a university culture that values ethical behavior 

While more evidence is needed regarding the impact of these measures,  a  few studies have shown promising results:

Researchers examined students in a Master of Public Health program for three years.4 

In year one, they made no intervention.  

In year two, they informed students that their assignments were being monitored using plagiarism detection software.  

In the third year, they had students attend an interactive seminar on plagiarism.
Informing students that assignments were being monitored for plagiarism showed no decrease in rates of plagiarism.

Having students attend a live seminar showed a significant decrease in the cases of plagiarism.4
A school of pharmacy administered an examination to student pharmacists on what is and is not plagiarism, which was followed by a seminar on plagiarism.5 

The following semester, they were given the exam once again.5
Students scored significantly higher overall on the second assessment compared to the first 

This demonstrates the seminar was effective and the effect lasted several months.

Students recalled what was taught during the seminar and were better prepared to understand what constitutes plagiarism.5

Although the evidence is limited, these studies indicate a scare tactic (e.g., the fear of “getting caught”)  may not be the best intervention to prevent plagiarism. This does not come as a surprise if the true cause of plagiarism in school is not born of malice, but of ignorance, as previous studies have suggested.2 Pharmacy faculty, preceptors, and administrators should not assume student pharmacists enter their professional programs with a baseline understanding of plagiarism. Thus, while educating students is important, educating faculty is also key. Some potential ideas for consideration include regular presentations at faculty meetings from the honor code committee representatives, preceptor development continuing education topics, and testimonials from course coordinators who have experienced plagiarism in the classroom.  

Schools and colleges of pharmacy should also consider ways to introduce and reinforce education on plagiarism to ensure all students have a solid understanding before they enter the profession. Specific teaching opportunities may include discussing the concept of plagiarism in new student orientation, requiring acknowledgement of the school’s policies on academic dishonesty, addressing plagiarism proactively every semester in classes that include assignments which lend themselves to plagiarism, and sharing real examples of de-identified plagiarized work from previous student pharmacists.3 Importantly the responsibility should not lie with one individual department or faculty member.  

How often do you talk about plagiarism with your pharmacy students? Where does the responsibility for education on plagiarism occur in your program?  


1. LaDuke, RD.  Academic dishonesty today, unethical practices tomorrow?  Academic Dishonesty Today, Unethical Practices Tomorrow? J Prof Nurs.2013;29(6): 402–406.

2. Ryan G, Bonanno H, Krass I, Scouller K, Smith L. Undergraduate and postgraduate pharmacy students’ perceptions of plagiarism and academic honesty. Am J Pharm Educ. 2009;73(6):105. doi: 10.5688/aj7306105

3. Stonecypher K, Willson P.  Academic policies and practices to deter cheating in nursing education. Nurs Educ Perspect. 2014;35(3):167-179.  doi: 10.5480/12-1028.1

4. Marshall T, Taylor B, Hothersall E, Pérez-Martín L. Plagiarism: A Case Study of Quality Improvement in a Taught Postgraduate Programme. Med Teach. 2011;33(7):e375-e381. doi:10.3109/0142159x.2011.579201

5. DeGeeter M, Harris K, Kehr H, et al. Pharmacy Students’ Ability to Identify Plagiarism After an Educational InterventionAm J Pharm Educ. 2014;78(2). doi:10.5688/ajpe78233

Author Bio(s):

Jack Donahue is a fourth-year pharmacy student at the University of Kentucky College of Pharmacy. Educational scholarships interests include ambulatory care, education, and cardiology. In his free time, Jack enjoys baking desserts and reading. 

Holly Divine is a Professor and Director of External Studies at the University of Kentucky College of Pharmacy.  Educational scholarship interests include ambulatory care, diabetes, and experiential education.  In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her family and going to the lake.

Pulses is a scholarly blog supported by Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning

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