Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Tales from Med School: The Honor Code

Did your med school have an honor code?

Mine didn't when we started. Some people in my class thought we needed one and that it would have all sorts of benefits for us, such as being given extra time at the end of the anatomy practical to look at the pins we weren't sure of. Some people in the class worked real hard and we got our honor code. Hurrah!

Except, not exactly.

We elected an Honor Code Committee to uphold the code. It was great for a little while, but then it felt like they were less of a committee and more like the police. Actually, more like the gestapo.

For example, sometimes we had large lectures that were mandatory, so there was a sign-out sheet in the back of the room. And there were some students who would sign the sheet at the beginning of lecture and then leave. Is this ethical? Not really. But I think it kind of sucks that a friend of mine got turned in by her own roommate for doing this once, and had to stand before the dean. It wasn't like she was cheating. And this doesn't encourage a sense of harmony among classmates who are already competitive by nature.

But OK, maybe you think that skipping lectures is really unethical and she deserved to be turned in. And maybe you're right. But it got worse. By third year, there was one honor code committee member that I was literally afraid to talk to because I was scared of being reported. Our conversations would sound like this:

Him: (casually) "I didn't see you in class yesterday."

Me: "No, I have a bad cold, so I told the professor I wasn't feeling well and he said it was okay to go home."

Him: "Really... you don't LOOK like you have a bad cold..."

Me: "But I do. I swear, you can ask my roommate, I was really sick all day. I SWEAR, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD PLEASE DON'T TURN ME IN!!"

So basically, I was not a fan of the honor committee. Perhaps a med school class doesn't have the personalities to handle the responsibilities of an honor code.


  1. I'll admit I'm a little confused. What, exactly, is the function of the honour code (in an ideal world, anyway)? I've never heard of that sort of thing at school before.

  2. I thought honor codes were to prevent cheating on exams, not to enforce class attendance. And the committee? Isn't what works about honor codes is that anyone could turn you in? Or is it just that there were a couple of really overzealous classmates?

  3. Our honor code is held up by the entire university, not just the med school. So while we have reps on the honor committee, it's more than just med students judging those for honor code violations. It's so serious that you can be expelled for an honor code violation. But it also means that you can generally leave things out in the open and they'll still be there when you get back, and local businesses will accept an IOU if you leave your money someplace.

  4. Honestly, I never knew the purpose of the honor code aside from turning us against each other.

  5. You'd think you would have enough pressure just by being in med school to deal with, without including other ridiculous standards of conduct too.

  6. Gestapo indeed. I don't see why skipping class is a problem for anyone but the teaching professor and the student involved...Missing class is a personal choice and if someone wants to go into debt only to miss a bunch of class-time that their tuition pays for, that's their problem.

  7. This is something that my residency program is currently struggling with, as we've had a bad track record in the past few years of people not attending mandatory sessions (to the point where I've been embarrassed to be one of only two or three residents sitting in a "mandatory" lecture). It's unfortunate that we aren't all professional and mature enough to attend sessions without being forced into doing it by "honour codes" or sign-in sheets. Something is definitely lost when you need to monitor people's participation and can't trust them to behave appropriately.

  8. Solitary: This was a MAJOR issue during my residency as well. It seemed like every week there was a new threatening email from the PD or chiefs. Even the threat of extra call wasn't enough to get people to show on time. As someone who showed up to every single lecture, I too was kind of embarrassed by the behavior of some of my co-residents.

  9. Oh wow...the honor code. Too many type A people trying to boss each other around more than they already do. And in residency? I'm noticing there is a lot of lateness or non-attendance to "mandatory" events as well just like Solitary. I agree, in residency it is embarrassing...back in medical school I don't give two flying craps if everyone's in lecture or not :)

  10. Honor Code for class attendance? really? Attendance should be between you and the instructor!! Your classmates shouldn't give a large rat's ass if you attend class or not!

  11. Our Med-School honor code was "I will not cheat, lie, or steal, nor tolerate those who do." It was simple, and easy to understand and enforce. We had no attendance policy, and on the one occasion where a student did cheat, you should have heard the tongue lashing we all received since some of us knew about it, but didn't report it.
    Having said that - I think an honor code is for the worst of the worst. For those who don't choose to live a higher standard, for those who won't do it on their own. For those who refuse to act appropriately because it's the right thing to do - we give them an honor code and tell them you will be expelled if you break it. If you are living your life the way you should, an honor code should never enter your mind or affect your life - because you are living far above that standard.