Over the past 15 years, there have been multiple studies examining the rate of publication misrepresentation among residency applicants applying to different specialties. These studies have consistently shown that misrepresentation does occur, with rates varying from 2 to 45%.
The most competitive specialties and programs tend to place much more emphasis on an applicant's scholarly productivity. These programs attract many applicants with high USMLE scores, outstanding clerkship grades, and strong letters of recommendation, far more than they can interview. With so many highly qualified applicants to choose from, programs rely heavily on the number and quality of publications listed in the ERAS application to make difficult interview decisions.
In the past, programs were apt to take what was listed in the publication section at face value. However, with the growing body of evidence indicating that misrepresentation is occurring, sometimes at surprisingly high rates, applicants can expect that their applications will be under more scrutiny than ever before.
To be sure, some of this misrepresentation is willful, an attempt to make one's application more competitive. For example, consider the following examples of misrepresentation reported in the literature:
Applicants listing a publication on the ERAS application that doesn't exist.
Applicants listing their name as part of an author group when they weren't granted authorship.
Applicants incorrectly listing their name as first author.
It's difficult to attribute these examples to anything other than intellectual dishonesty.
Other examples of publication misrepresentation are not so clear-cut. Is it possible for an applicant to incorrectly list an article as "peer-reviewed" just because of carelessness or lack of attention to detail? It sure is. I have seen this happen with some of my own students who have shared their applications with me for review prior to submission.
"Applicants who have not had sufficient scholarly writing experience may not completely understand the language of scholarly publication, including the publication terms expressing a manuscript’s status in the peer review process," writes J. Michael Homan, Director of Libraries at Mayo Clinic. "For inexperienced writers, terms in the Electronic Residency Application Service (ERAS) system like 'in press' and 'accepted' may mean approximately the same thing."
Whether its willful or unintentional, the end result will be the same if you are caught - removal of your application from further consideration. Why? Because programs simply don't have the time nor the means to determine with certainty whether applicants' actions were due to naivete, carelessness, or deception. "We have enough good applicants that we do not have to take a risk of having a potentially dishonest resident, which is perhaps the most dreaded mistake we can make in our selection process," writes Dr. Roberto Heros, former Chairman and Residency Program Director of the Department of Neurosurgery at the University of Miami.
The bottom line: Errors in the publication section of the ERAS application are easy to make. Even the most innocent mistake can call into question your professionalism and ethics, potentially jeopardizing your chance of matching with a coveted program. To avoid any issues, take care in how you cite and categorize publications, double-check and even triple-check for accuracy, and have your application reviewed by your mentor or advisor.