Gender-Based Differences Among Pharmacy Students Involved in Academically Dishonest Behavior

Eric J. Ip, PharmD; Jai Pal, MS; Shadi Doroudgar, PharmD; Monica K. Bidwal, PharmD; Bijal Shah-Manek, PhD, B.Pharm


Am J Pharm Educ. 2018;82(4) 

In This Article


This study compared gender-based differences among pharmacy students regarding admitted cheating in pharmacy school, taking part in various forms of academically dishonest behavior, and perceptions of academically dishonest behavior. No significant differences were found between males and females in admitted cheating in pharmacy school as well as taking part in various forms of academically dishonest behavior. More females witnessed a classmate copying another student's assignment than males, and males seemed to have a more lenient perception regarding a student distributing a stolen exam.

Similar to the results of two US Doctor of Pharmacy program studies, this study found no differences in admitted cheating between male and female students.[10,11] This study surveyed California pharmacy students, whereas the other two studies analyzed pharmacy students in Midwestern and Eastern states. From this, it can be inferred that differences in admitted cheating between male and female Doctor of Pharmacy students is unlikely. However, Aggarwal and colleagues found that more male students admitted to cheating than females in a Master of Sciences of Pharmacy program in England.[15] Literature has shown that cheating tendencies decrease as students progress to professional-level programs.[9] Data is mixed among medical students with two studies reporting higher rates of cheating among males, while another study reported no differences between genders.[8,9,16] Males reported higher rates of admitted classroom cheating in nursing and physician assistant programs than females.[17–19] Although no study has specifically associated academic dishonesty during didactic years to academic dishonesty in the experiential environment amongst cohorts of pharmacy students, one such study exists in medicine. Medical students who are academically dishonest are more likely to alter laboratory data, patient history, or physical examination findings in a clinical setting.[8] Thus, it is plausible that the same may be true for pharmacy students who cheat in the didactic setting.

Gender-based differences in ethical behaviors of practicing pharmacists are implied in data available from the California Board of Pharmacy. Between 2015–2016, the California Board of Pharmacy reported that male pharmacists were more likely to have their licenses revoked or surrendered due to performing unethical professional acts (eg, medication theft, prescription falsification, and drug diversion) compared to female pharmacists.[20] It should be noted that the majority of practicing pharmacists nationwide are female.[21] Similarly, male physicians in California were more likely to be disciplined for unethical professional acts such as clinical negligence or incompetence, drug or alcohol use, sexual misconduct, and financial or tax fraud.[22] Regarding males reporting more cheating in middle school than females, Ip and colleagues previously found that the only predictor for cheating in pharmacy school was cheating in undergraduate studies (OR 11.7; 95% CI 4.4–31.0, p<.001).[6] Interestingly, cheating begets cheating. The investigators also found that the only predictor of cheating in undergraduate studies was cheating in high school (OR 25.1; 95% CI 9.0–69.7, p<.001) as well as the only predictor for cheating in high school was cheating in middle school (OR 29.4; 95% CI 15.7–55.2, p<.001).[6] There appears to be no differences in admitted cheating between males and females during the didactic years of pharmacy school; however, further exploration is warranted for cheating and unethical behaviors that may occur during clinical clerkships and post-graduation.

Regarding taking part in various types of academically dishonest behavior, this study found no significant gender-based differences in cheating during a written or computerized examination, stealing an examination, asking for or giving away details of a practical/oral examination or OSCE, copying another student's coursework, giving coursework to students in lower years, plagiarizing, and fabricating laboratory data. However, both males and females frequently admitted to participating in behaviors such as sharing practical/oral examinations or OSCE details, copying another student's coursework, and giving coursework to students in other professional years. Perhaps these types of sharing activities may not be considered cheating to the students or perhaps they may feel compelled by peer pressure.[9] Similarly, Forinash and colleagues did not find any gender-based differences regarding cheating on an examination or quiz, laboratory assignment, group project, and plagiarism.[16] One study of medical students reported no gender-based differences for examination misconduct, unexcused absences, research misconduct, clinical misconduct, and other types of misconduct (eg, avoiding teamwork, forging signatures, and using another person's medical stamp). While there were no gender-based differences for many forms of academically dishonest behaviors, male pharmacy students may take part in more collusion or team-based cheating than females.

This study and the study by Emmerton and colleagues used hypothetical scenarios to assess perceptions of academically dishonest behaviors between male and female pharmacy students.[13] In both studies, no perception differences between males and females were seen for sharing details of an examination, copying another student's examination, copying another student's coursework, and using another student's work as their own. While Emmerton did not assess perceptions of a stolen examination, the current study revealed that males were less likely to perceive a male student as an examination theft accomplice and distributing the examination to his peers as cheating compared to females.[13] A possible reason for this difference may be that males view the above scenario as a form of team-based comradery. Alternatively, males have been shown to tolerate cheating behaviors more than females, and females have a more conservative view of cheating than males.[23,24] Future studies may wish to assess whether perception differences exist regarding cheating or performing unethical behaviors on clinical clerkships and as a practicing pharmacist. It would also be interesting to assess if those who cheat felt any remorse in performing these academically dishonest acts in the didactic and clinical settings.

This study had a number of limitations. First, surveyed students were only from Northern California pharmacy schools. As such, the findings may not be generalizable to other states. Second, participants were completing the didactic portion of the PharmD curriculum and as such, cheating or unethical behavior in the clinical or patient care settings was not assessed. Third, there is a potential for recall bias as participants were asked to recollect past experiences. Next, students may have been subject to social desirability bias due to the subject matter. Lastly, rates of admitted cheating are likely lower than actual rates due to the sensitive nature of the topic and also the respondents' interpretation of the question "Have you ever cheated in pharmacy school?" (ie, some may only view cheating in relation to examination cheating). To address this limitation, multiple forms of academically dishonest behavior were assessed.