Another year has rolled by, and it’s again time for you to participate in the admissions interviews for your alma mater. It is becoming more and more difficult to identify those who not only would fit into your program, but would also contribute to your beloved specialty. The first transcript on your desk demonstrates the applicant’s strong ability in the basic sciences and clinical course work. He seems to have difficulty in writing and communicating, however. A careful review of his faculty recommendations hints at this weakness. His grades on his college record confirm your suspicions.
At the appointed hour, the departmental secretary introduces you to the applicant. After a short introduction of yourself in an effort to place him at ease, you are struck by his frequent misuse of the spoken language. Not only is his grammar inappropriate, but also his sentences are riddled with juvenile colloquialisms. Yet his application essay was so eloquent that you discussed the composition with the admissions committee chair when you originally read it. Clearly, something is amiss.
As your discussion continues during the interview, your questions evolve toward the structure and content of his essay. It becomes painfully obvious that he was not the primary author of this composition. Finally, in a near-tearful confession, he concedes that the essay was not totally written by him, but the text was significantly modified by a hired service that specializes in editing and enhancing admissions essays. He located the service via the Internet.
Such enterprises are not new and can be explored by anyone with access to the Web. There are multiple levels of assessment available for the application essay. One fee will provide a simple evaluation of the piece, and a higher fee will entitle the client to revision and editing of the draft. The highest fee will buy more in-depth restructuring of the essay. Grammatical errors will be eliminated. All the client must do is give a few background facts such as his interests, research accomplishments, clinical experience, hobbies, and so on. After that, it’s “proceed to checkout!”—in true retail fashion.
A quick perusal of the Internet shows many opportunities for editing services for term papers and other forms of prose. But is this service appropriate for an application to a health profession program? The application essay is intended to contribute to the identification of the most suitable candidates for a profession or a specialty.
Communication skills, for example, are essential for effective delivery of health care. The essay is intended to be completed solely by the applicant, in his or her own literary style, showing an authentic dimension about character. Essential personal qualities, including communication ability, should not be misrepresented, either intentionally or unintentionally.
A glance at the profiles of the “editors” of these essays reveals that they are often students enrolled in professional programs and are experienced in the application process. Their selling point is that they have “been there and done that.” They know the game. But is their participation in such endeavors ethical? Are they violating the principle of veracity (truth telling) and the virtue of integrity that are so essential for the conscientious provider?
Integrity. The Latin root of the word is integritas —meaning “whole.” In ethics, wholeness connotes a moral consistency by adhering to principles and values, despite adversity and temptation. It has been said that the foundation of ethics for professionals is integrity—upholding ideals with consistency.
The German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) believed that a universal morality was our duty, regardless of the outcome and irrespective of the conditions. He called this the “categorical imperative.” Kant was defining integrity at its consistent best.
If integrity is defined by a consistency of values, and if misrepresenting an applicant’s essay contradicts the ethical principle of veracity, one might ask whether this pattern of misrepresentation will persist in the future delivery of patient care.