Academic Psychiatry

, Volume 40, Issue 3, pp 530–533 | Cite as

Whistle-blowing in Medical School: A National Survey on Peer Accountability and Professional Misconduct in Medical Students

  • Laura E. Hodges
  • Hyo Jung Tak
  • Farr A. Curlin
  • John D. Yoon
In Brief Report



This study examines medical students’ attitudes towards peer accountability.


A nationally representative sample of 564 third year medical students was surveyed. Students reported their agreement or disagreement with two statements: “I feel professionally obligated to report peers whose personal behaviors compromise their professional responsibilities” and “I feel professionally obligated to report peers who I believe are seriously unfit to practice medicine.”


The majority of students (81.6 %) either agreed strongly or agreed somewhat that they feel obligated to report peers whose personal behaviors compromise their professional responsibilities. The majority (84.1 %) also agreed that they feel professionally obligated to report peers who they believe are seriously unfit to practice medicine.


In contrast with previous studies, this national study found that a significant majority of students reported that they feel obligated to report unfit peers.


Medical students Professionalism Whistle-blowing Peer accountability National Survey 



The authors would like to thank Senior Project Manager, Dr. Kenneth Rasinski, and Data Manager, Ms. Annikea Miller, for their capable and generous contributions to the project. This project was supported by A New Science of Virtues, The Arête Initiative at the University of Chicago through a grant from the John Templeton Foundation. This project was also supported by a pilot grant from the Bucksbaum Institute for Clinical Excellence at the University of Chicago.


On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.


  1. 1.
    Wynia MK. The short history and tenuous future of medical professionalism: the erosion of medicine’s social contract. Perspect Biol Med. 2008;51:565–78.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Wynia MK. The role of professionalism and self-regulation in detecting impaired or incompetent physicians. JAMA. 2010;304:210–2.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    American Medical Association [AMA]. Opinion 9.031—reporting impaired, incompetent, or unethical colleagues. In: AMA Code of Medical Ethics. Accessed 25 Jan 2015.
  4. 4.
    Rennie SC, Crosby JR. Students’ perceptions of whistle blowing: implications for self-regulation: a questionnaire and focus group survey. Med Educ. 2002;36:172–9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Feudtner C, Chistakis DA, Christakis NA. Do clinical clerks suffer ethical erosion? Students’ perceptions of their ethical environment and personal development. Acad Med. 1994;69:670–9.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Goldie J, Schwartz L, McConnachie A, Morrison J. Students’ attitudes and potential behavior with regard to whistle blowing as they pass through a modern medical curriculum. Med Educ. 2003;37:368–75.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    DesRoches CM, Rao SR, Fromson JA, Birnbaum RJ, Iezzoni L, Vogeli C, et al. Physicians’ perceptions, preparedness for reporting, and experiences related to impaired and incompetent colleagues. JAMA. 2010;304:187–93.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Project on the Good Physician. In: Program on Medicine and Religion. Accessed 27 Jan 2015.
  9. 9.
    Collins D. Pretesting survey instruments: an overview of cognitive methods. Qual Life Res. 2003;12:229–38.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Tilburt JC, James KM, Jenkins SM, Antiel RM, Curlin FA, Rasinski KA. “Righteous minds” in health care: measurement and explanatory value of social intuitionism in accounting for the moral judgments in a sample of U.S. physicians. PLoS ONE. 2013. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0073379.PubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Graham J, Haidt J, Nosek BA. Liberals and conservatives rely on different sets of moral foundations. J Pers Soc Psychol. 2009. doi: 10.1037/A0015141.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Reddy ST, Farnan JM, Yoon JD, Leo T, Upadhyay GA, Humphrey HJ, et al. Third-year medical students’ participation in and perceptions of unprofessional behaviors. Acad Med. 2007;82:S35–9.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Academic Psychiatry 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Laura E. Hodges
    • 1
  • Hyo Jung Tak
    • 2
  • Farr A. Curlin
    • 3
  • John D. Yoon
    • 4
  1. 1.Brown UniversityProvidenceUSA
  2. 2.University of North Texas Health Science CenterFort WorthUSA
  3. 3.Duke UniversityDurhamUSA
  4. 4.The University of ChicagoChicagoUSA

Personalised recommendations