The WSJ’s Health Blog recently posted “Study: Medical Residency Applicants and Plagiarism” which cites a study in the Annals of Internal Medicine by a team of researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. The researchers found “evidence of plagiarism” in 5.2% of residency application personal statements by comparing the essays to publicly available material as well as to previously submitted essays. When they saw text that matched more than 10% of material on other essays, they felt it “showed evidence” of plagiarism.
Drs. Papadakis and Wofsy, both from UCSF, wrote in an accompanying editorial that:
“plagiarism is only a ‘symptom’ of a larger trend toward using professional essay prep services. (One charges $2,730 for a ‘complete, rush 10-hour package service.’) While such services ‘may not constitute plagiarism,’ the authors write, ‘they certainly constitute misrepresentation of the applicant’s independent capabilities.’”
Let me respond to the main points in this editorial that relate to my work and to Accepted.com.
- Plagiarism is “the act of taking the writings of another person and passing them off as one’s own.” according to the Encyclopedia Britannica. Accepted.com and all legitimate admissions consultants oppose plagiarism. Period. Please see the Principles of Good Practice of the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants (AIGAC), of which I am a founding member and past president.
- There is no connection whatsoever between plagiarism and use of essay editing services. The editorial authors don’t have a clue as to what admissions consultants do if they associate our work with plagiarism or misrepresentation of abilities. Consulting a specialist is an enhancement of one’s capabilities, not a misrepresentation of them.
- Just as patients must distinguish between doctors and quacks, doctors must distinguish between essay writing services and services provided by legitimate admissions consultants, such as those in AIGAC.
- When residency applicants turn to a consultant they are seeking the help of a specialist so they can present themselves — not someone else — at their best. This is the same service provided by many medical school advisors, parents, friends and family. However, we have the combination of experience, knowledge, time, and commitment that is lacking in other possible advisors. Furthermore, our service is similar to the assistance that high school counsellors and college consultants provide college applicants. And it is similar to the services provided by universities and private consultants to medical school applicants. Accepted.com’s Cydney Foote, author of Write Your Way to a Residencythe argument forcefully in her comment on the WSJ blog:
I have been working with the Accepted.com team as a professional admissions consultant for nine years, and I’d like to respond to the claim that services such as the ones my company offers “constitute misrepresentation of the applicant’s independent capabilities.” I think this reflects a profound misunderstanding of what admissions consultants really do. My job is not to misrepresent applicants’ capabilities but to encourage them to look deeper into who they are and what they have to offer their particular specialty. This level of introspection isn’t necessarily easy, especially for students embroiled in med school’s day-to-day challenges, but with the support and guidance of an experienced admissions consultant, applicants reflect more deeply on their personal goals and start to identify in clear terms exactly why they are pulled to a particular field. I then can help them convey the results of this self-reflection in interesting and engaging ways. This process is neither plagiarism nor misrepresentation; it is merely consulting a specialist and expert in the field.
A good admissions consultant will help the applicant craft his or her unique story in a way that won’t work for anybody else. In my opinion, that’s the measure of a successful personal statement–how well it reflects the applicant’s true capabilities and individuality.
If you would like to know more about reputable admissions consultants, I encourage you to look to the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants (www.aigac.org). This organization was founded specifically to address concerns like the ones you’ve raised, as well as to implement ethical guidelines for our profession.
Drs. Papadakis and Wofsy argue at the end of their editorial that perhaps residency programs should eliminate the residency personal statement. If programs do not find that the 95% of the residency applicants who write their own essays provide useful insight, then maybe the personal statement should be discarded. Of course that would imply higher costs associated with interviews, recommended by Drs. Papadakis and Wofsy, or no understanding into what moves and motivates residency candidates.
However, the value of the essay is a separate question from the integrity of the authors or of a profession devoted to aiding and guiding applicants. Don’t scapegoat and malign admissions consultants if you want to find an alternative to essays.
Roughly five years ago the business school world was rocked by charges that MBA admissions consultants were corrupting the admissions process. Several consultants and I reached out to the schools. The resulting dialogue led to the founding of AIGAC and to a much more constructive relationship with the schools as evidenced by AIGAC’s annual conferences, (See 2010 AIGAC Conference in Boston for information on the most recent event.) which have included presentations by admissions directors and deans from schools including Chicago Booth, Kellogg, Wharton, Columbia, NYU, MIT, Harvard, Dartmouth Tuck, INSEAD, UC Berkeley’s Haas School, UCLA Anderson, UVA Darden, Michigan Ross and other leading business schools.
Similarly, I look forward to the development of a constructive relationship with medical schools and residency programs marked — not by sniping and accusations based on ignorance — but by dialogue, professional collaboration, and a commitment to integrity in the medical school, residency, and fellowship application process.