Becoming a successful nurse entails more than just graduating from an accredited program and demonstrating good clinical skills. It also means being ethical, accountable and respectful.
Deborah Raines, PhD, EdS, RN, ANEF, an associate professor of nursing at the University at Buffalo School of Nursing in New York, said in addition to mastering college coursework, nursing students need to achieve and maintain academic integrity.
“Employers want nurses who have a strong work ethic commitment, interpersonal and team work skills and the ability to solve complex problems,” Raines said.
Raines, who discussed the topic of academic integrity at the AACN Baccalaureate Conference, will speak on the subject Nov. 17 at the Sigma Theta Tau Convention in Las Vegas. She said academic integrity goes beyond cheating on an exam or plagiarizing a term paper. It also encompasses values of honesty, trust, fairness, respect and responsibility.
“As healthcare professionals integrity is foundational to the nurse’s role and responsibility,” Raines said. “It’s important for nursing schools to promote integrity instead of just focusing on catching and punishing the cheaters. A focus on academic integrity has an impact on learning, behavior and professionalism.“
While many colleges place a strong emphasis on preventing cheating, Raines said some institutions need to focus more on enforcing academic integrity.
“When a term paper is due on a certain date and a nursing student offers multiple excuses on why it isn’t complete, or if they fail to turn in class homework on a regular basis, they need to be held accountable,” Raines said. “As nurses, these students need to realize their actions will affect the lives of many patients, and when you’re a nurse, showing up late for shifts, or neglecting to fulfill your job responsibilities won’t be tolerated.”
Raines said it’s important for nursing instructors to set the bar high for students and to communicate their expectations for students to uphold academic integrity, and to explain why it’s important. Rather than just focusing on negatives such as preventing cheating, instructors should focus on positives such as promoting academic and personal integrity.
One recent study showed students understood they weren’t supposed to plagiarize, but didn’t understand why. They avoided plagiarizing because they didn’t want to get in trouble with faculty, but they didn’t understand what it was or why it was a problem.
The International Center for Academic Integrity found that 22% of students admitted to cheating on a test or examination, but about twice as many (43%) engaged in “unauthorized collaboration” on homework which they didn’t view as being wrong.
Raines encouraged nursing instructors to discuss personal integrity with their students and how cheating and dishonesty affect self-worth. If a student shows up for classes, but has a lackadaisical attitude about their coursework, how can they become a successful nurse?
“Teachers also need to be role models and exemplify high standards of academic integrity,” Raines said. “This means posted office hours are kept, e-mails are returned within a specific time period and tests and papers are returned to students when promised.”
Instructors should also have policies in place for when students breach policies, and to be clear about what the consequences are in the event students are late to class, fail to turn in assignments, etc.
Promoting Academic Integrity Across Cultures
Robyn Nelson, PhD, RN, dean, College of Nursing at West Coast University in Ontario, Calif., said her nursing school is dedicated to “supporting a culture of integrity and personal accountability.” Nelson said that includes considerating cultural differences and expectations.
For example, the Western style of citing sources when writing term papers isn’t universal. Many Asian students come from educational systems where the norm is to repeat back a textbook verbatim without using a citation, as a sign of respect to the source of knowledge.
Language barriers can also prevent students from fully understanding codes of conduct. In these cases, it can be helpful to offer orientations specifically for international students on the concept of academic integrity and to discuss expectations.
“We work to ensure that all students understand that academic dishonesty jeopardizes the quality of education provided and depreciates the achievements of others,” Nelson said. “Each of our testing forms also includes an acknowledgement form that students are required to sign showing that they understand our school’s code of honor and the consequences that can occur as the result of breaching our Academic Honesty and Integrity policy.”