What Happens If You Get Caught Cheating in Medical School?

Possible outcomes from cheating in med school could include anything from being asked to retake an exam to undergoing a disciplinary hearing that could bar you from your studies. What actually happens depends on two things; the gravity of the situation and the policy of your medical school. It’s not unheard of for cheating to go entirely unpunished either!

My own personal stance on cheating as a med student is that it’s a unique form of self-harm. Doing so deprives you of a chance to better yourself and possibly learn a valuable lesson from failure. It also shields you from the harsh realities of a world where, despite your best efforts, sometimes you just get unlucky.

That said, this article aims to take a look at the subject of cheating in med school more broadly. Can (or should) those people still go on to become legitimate doctors?

Do People Cheat in Medical School?

Yes people cheat in medical school. I’ve seen it with my own eyes too many times. Some of their methods are very creative too – from tiny folded up pieces of paper to disguised smart watches.

Admittedly however, I’m too focused on my own exam most of the time to really see what goes on. But I’ve been in a lecture hall once or twice and seen students called out by teachers/professors on the spot. Asked to leave only to sit the exam on a later date, usually (perhaps it’s my med school) the punishment is pretty lax.

Related: How to focus for studying for exams

Obviously in this new age of Covid and online exams, cheating has become all the more easier. Dialling your friends in on a number of devices to watch over and guide you as you take a test, seems to be the complete norm now based on discussions with my colleagues. Even anti-cheating software like Respondus, which Medical University Varna uses, is quickly circumvented.

Before all this though, cheating was still commonplace in most medical schools. Due to the way classes and exams are staggered, different groups of students would sit the same exam at different times. Passing around photo recordings of questions and the like for future test-takers (or for themselves in the case of having to re-sit), other students could count on having already seen a large percentage of the questions beforehand.

According to my German colleagues, this is as commonplace there as it is in Bulgaria (or anywhere else). Medical schools in the UK and US are hardly exempt from cheaters either. Nor is South Korea – as the 83% of freshman and sophomores caught cheating at this med school helps to show.

Interestingly, there’s some research that estimates 0-58% of med students cheat at some point during their education too.

What Are the Consequences of Cheating in Medical School?

The consequences of cheating in medical school vary. Most of the time however they are dependent on the following:

  • The policy of the medical school
  • The type of exam (finals or board exams carrying greater penalties)
  • The students past history (first, second or third offender)
  • Departmental/professor bias

Where I’d like to think that most schools would apply a baseball-strike system (where three offences mean permanent expulsion) to students taking exams, it’s just not the case. Some schools – mine included – simply don’t seem to care. But perhaps this has a lot to do with the system itself; and the fact certain countries of study don’t expect to retain any of these graduates as doctors in their own healthcare systems.

As far as the consequences of cheating go then there’s really no one answer. Here are just a few stories highlighting the varying outcomes of alleged med student cheaters:

Notice how the main consequence is usually the threat of expulsion? Perhaps that’s warning enough to suggest, if you’re thinking about it, that cheating in med school is far from worth it.


Usually if you get caught cheating in medical school you’ll face the threat of expulsion. At the end of the day, medical schools have a reputation to maintain. Allowing sub-standard students (or those that unethically gain the system) to pass would only be harming the lives of these doctors future patients in the long run.

As med students, we really shouldn’t be afraid of failure. As I’ve written before, it’s actually very difficult to fail out of medical school based on poor exam performance. Most schools? Give you plenty of opportunity to knuckle down, have another go and make up for it.

That’s why cheating, at least how I see it, shouldn’t have any real place in med school.

After all, we’d never be able to cheat or take a short-cut diagnosing a patient. So why should we now?

Image Credit: cottonbro at Pexels