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Original Investigation
April 19, 2018

Rate of Unverifiable Publications Among Ophthalmology Residency Applicants Invited to Interview

Author Affiliations
  • 1Vanderbilt Eye Institute, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, Tennessee
  • 2Medical student, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Nashville, Tennessee
JAMA Ophthalmol. Published online April 19, 2018. doi:10.1001/jamaophthalmol.2018.0846
Key Points

Question  How common are unverifiable publications among ophthalmology residency applications?

Findings  In this cross-sectional study of 322 applicants invited to interview for the ophthalmology residency program at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine for entering classes 2012 to 2017, 7% had an unverifiable publication. Of students listing any full-length publications, 9% had at least 1 unverifiable scholarly work.

Meaning  Unverifiable publications are not rare among ophthalmology residency applications; modifying the San Francisco Match application may help ensure that the most ethical ophthalmology residents are recruited.

Abstract

Importance  Unverifiable publications in applications for ophthalmology residencies could be a serious concern if they represent publication dishonesty.

Objective  To determine the rate of unverifiable publications among applicants offered an interview.

Design  Retrospective review of 322 ophthalmology residency applications for entering classes 2012 to 2017 at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Nashville, Tennessee.

Interventions  Full-length publications reported in the applications were searched in PubMed, Google, Google Scholar, and directly on the journal’s website. Applications were deemed unverifiable if there was no record of the publication by any of these means or if substantial discrepancies existed, such as incorrect authorship, incorrect journal, or a meaningful discrepancy in title or length (full-length article vs abstract).

Main Outcomes and Measures  Inability to locate publication with search, incorrect author position, applicant not listed as an author, article being an abstract and not a published paper, substantial title discrepancy suggesting an alternative project, and incorrect journal.

Results  Of the 322 applicants offered interviews during the 6-year study period, 22 (6.8%) had 24 unverifiable publications. Two hundred thirty-nine of these applicants (74.2%) reported at least 1 qualifying publication; of this group, 22 (9.2%) had an unverifiable publication. The applications with unverifiable publications were evenly distributed across the years of the study (range, 2-6 per cycle; Pearson χ25 = 3.65; P = .60). Two applicants had 2 unverifiable publications each. Two of the 22 applicants (9.1%) with unverifiable publications were graduates of medical schools outside the United States. Among the unverifiable publications, the most common reason was inability to locate the publication (13 [54%]). Additional issues included abstract rather than full-length publication (5 [20.8%]), incorrect author position (4 [16.7%]), applicant not listed as an author on the publication (1 [4.2%]), and substantial title discrepancy (1 [4.2%]). One listed publication had an incorrect author position and incorrect journal (1 [4.2%]).

Conclusions and Relevance  Unverifiable publications among ophthalmology residency applicants is a persistent problem. Possible strategies to modify the review process include asking applicants to provide copies of their full-length works or the relevant PMCID (PubMed Central reference number) or DOI (digital object identifier) for their publications.

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