How to prevent cheating in EMS education

Academic dishonesty is probably more rampant than we believe and needs to be actively prevented

Updated April 13, 2015

Academic Dishonesty is a fancy way of saying cheating. Do you think cheating exists in EMS education? I do and I believe it is widespread, and its ubiquity is probably well beyond what most of us can imagine.

EMS students reflect the culture around them and the communities they come from. Every morning, the newspaper has a front-page story about a politician, professional athlete, business owner, health care professional, educator, or other professional caught cheating.

Many of us have experienced cheating in personal relationships or had it happen to people close to us. Cheating exists in every level of education, from elementary school students taking standardized tests to physicians preparing for board examinations.

Cheating is believed to be most prevalent among high school students and is no longer just a habit of low academic performers. College entrance exams and scholarship criteria are believed to pressure high performers into cheating.

Plagiarism is the most common form of cheating perpetrated by high school and college students, but other forms such as copying another student's work, sharing examination questions, and fraudulently obtaining exam information are common as well.

The habits we form as high school students stay with us and are hard to shake. Some high school students become EMT students, and we would be naïve to believe that students enter our classrooms as well formed ethicists, free of cheating habits.

In reality, they arrive with a mish mash of study habits, short cuts, and academic preparation. In addition to teaching them assessment and treatment for a broad pool of medical and trauma problems, EMS educators are also responsible for assessing and nurturing personal values like trust, empathy, responsibility, and honesty.

Since cheating exists in EMS education, work to prevent it by:

Discussing academic dishonesty with your students openly and frequently.

Define cheating and provide very specific examples. Many students claim they didn't know their actions were wrong. I have heard it said that the top expectation of the current generation of EMS students is clear expectations.

Adopting an Academic Honor Code.

Your school may already have one or you might need to make your own. Inform students of the honor code during the application process. Discuss each facet of the honor code and the consequences for violating the code on the first day of class. Ask students to sign the honor code. Regularly remind them of the honor code, especially before mid-term and final examinations.

Intentionally teaching values.

Yes, we need to teach EMTs to be good people while we teach them to be good medical professionals. ICare values education program was developed by an EMT class for EMTs.

Including ethical dilemmas in patient assessment scenarios and case discussions.

Academic dishonesty is a gateway to workplace cheating, which may include fraudulent time card entry or workmen's compensation claims, skipping daily equipment checks, and drug diversion. Discuss workplace ethics with students using specific examples that they will eventually encounter as EMS professionals.

Lower the risk of cheating with classroom modification and clear instructions.

I start classroom exams with these instructions, "This is a closed book and closed neighbor exam. Take everything off your desk and put it under your seat. Disable and stow all electronic devices." It is important to remind the students about the consequences of cheating and end with a simple final request of, "please don't cheat." 

Have you seen cheating in EMS education? What methods were used and how can cheating be prevented? Share your experiences and advice in the comments.

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