Why Cheating in Nursing School Never Pays Off

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In nursing, academic integrity is not just a lofty ideal. It is a cornerstone of professional practice. When you cheat in nursing school, you put your future in danger, and you put the lives of your patients in danger.

“If I’m a nursing student and I cheat on an exam, I’m not learning what I need to know,” said Monique Doughty, BSN, RN, host of the Straight A Nursing podcast. “Cheating is not ‘helping’ me, though I may think I’m helping myself to get a better grade. I’m actually putting public safety at risk. It’s a big deal.”

Doughty, also known as “Nurse Mo,” explored academic integrity issues in a podcast episode with a nurse educator and a security expert. The discussion highlighted the true cost of academic dishonesty. Whether it’s cheating on tests, plagiarizing assignments, or turning in work that doesn’t represent your thoughts, all will put your career at risk.

“The reason academic integrity is so important is that it affects everything,” said Karen Taylor, DNP, RN, CNE, a nurse education consultant for ATI. “Unlike in a lot of other jobs, a nurse’s integrity, their evidence-based practice, and their ethics ultimately can protect or do harm to another human being.”

The scope of cheating is broad. So are the ramifications

The scope of academic dishonesty among nursing students is alarming. In multiple surveys reported in the nursing literature, nursing students have acknowledged that they cheat on tests and assignments. The consequences of this dishonesty are significant.

“We’ve recently seen harsher penalties for cheating and for academic dishonesty in general,” said Jeff Marsh, manager of test security for Ascend Learning, the parent company of ATI. These penalties can include:

  • revoked approval for admission
  • invalidation of exam results
  • failing scores on assignments or tests
  • lack of progression through an academic program
  • dismissal or suspension from a program
  • monetary fines
  • criminal charges
  • jail time.

In the rare cases when penalties like the above are not administered, trouble is inevitable. For example, if a prospective student manages to get admitted to nursing school after cheating on the Test of Essential Academic Skills (TEAS), they will encounter obstacles.

“You’re going to be paying an awful lot of money and spending an awful lot of time to potentially not be successful,” Dr. Taylor said. “Because entrance tests are a good indicator of a student’s potential success in nursing school. Starting your career through a falsehood will hurt you emotionally, and it will hurt you psychologically. And it’s going to lessen your ability to be successful for the rest of the program.”

Safeguards to prevent and detect cheating

The methods for maintaining exam integrity are constantly expanding. Today’s technologies have powerful dual results: They identify instances of cheating and they prevent cheating from occurring, Marsh said.

Common safeguards include:

  • browser controls that prevent looking up answers during an exam
  • lockdown features that prevent copying and pasting
  • monitoring of keystrokes and activity while logged in
  • tracing computer IP addresses
  • location identification of the computer used for a test
  • identity verification.

“After your exam is over, somebody is out there looking at that exam data to identify any odd patterns that occurred during the test,” Marsh said. “When students answer exam questions the exact same way, it indicates that maybe they helped each other study or they went to a website to look up exam content.

“We can detect that behavior and follow up on it,” he continued. “It may give us a good indication of where cheating occurred and help us investigate what might have occurred.”

The many forms of academic dishonesty

Academic dishonesty occurs in multiple forms. Some are obvious, like purchasing copies of a test or sharing answers to exams. Others are not. Dr. Taylor and Marsh said students should be aware that all of the following can violate academic policies:

Collusion. An example of collusion is when students share and copy information in care plans or concept maps. This prevents an accurate determination of whether students can absorb information and make independent decisions, Dr. Taylor said.

“When you’re a nurse, you’re not going to be caring for someone in tandem. You’ll be working on a team, but you’re each going to have different ideas and perceptions of the data you’re receiving,” she said. “Collaboration is fine, but collusion to complete an assignment is not.”

Plagiarism: This is any copying of someone else’s work, whether it’s an assignment, a test answer, or the content of a care plan. “If a student goes on the web and looks up an answer and copies it verbatim into a test or assignment, that’s plagiarism,” Marsh said.

Even accidental plagiarism has consequences, Doughty said. “Always write information in your own words, and always cite your sources,” she advised. To avoid accidentally paraphrasing in a way that mirrors original source content, she recommends running assignments through online plagiarism checkers before handing them in.

Fabrication. This category includes inaccurate or incomplete reporting of information and making up information. One example is posting on a class discussion board about a clinical experience that is false.

“Let’s say you have to write a discussion board post about an experience you had in clinical. And rather than taking the time to really reflect on that experience, you just make something up. That is a blatant fabrication,” Doughty said.

Dr. Taylor noted that fabrication can be “little white lies and flat-out big ones.” She gave an example of a nursing student telling a clinical supervisor that they had reassessed a patient 30 minutes after administering a pain medication and that the patient reported a pain level of three. “I’ll tell you to chart that,” she said. “But if I go in the room and I see the patient writhing in pain — that is a fabrication.”

Sabotage. And example of sabotage is not doing your share of work in a group project. “When you’re sabotaging the success of everybody in the group, that’s a form of academic dishonesty, Doughty said.

Don’t throw away your potential and your career

As future nurses, students must embrace academic integrity not just to avoid punishment but also to prepare themselves for the critical professional responsibilities ahead.

Every decision, every action, and every test answer or assignment is an opportunity to learn and improve — for the sake of the patients who will one day depend on your care.

“You can’t cheat in class. People don’t believe it, but it’s true,” Dr. Taylor said. “And if by some miracle you pass the NCLEX, you are still unsafe. The ultimate test is what you do with the patient. We don’t want you to fail that.”

Cheating in nursing school jeopardizes your career
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