Nearly everyone pads his resume at one time or another. And that includes doctors, according to a new study.
Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh found that 30 percent of applicants to a gastroenterology fellowship program who cited published articles in their list of credentials had lied about the articles.
These misrepresentations included taking credit for nonexistent articles in actual journals, articles in fictitious journals or nonexistent articles listed as "in press."
Officials in charge of the fellowship program were tipped off when they ran across two applicants whose credentials contained obvious fabrications, according to the study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
They decided to investigate the rest of the applicants, and found that another 14 doctors out of 53 who listed published articles on their resumes had falsified the listings.
Even some doctors who had published scientific articles had added fictitious articles to their list of authentic ones.
The researchers speculated that intense competition for the fellowships may have spurred the applicants to lie on their resumes.
Graduates of the gastroenterology fellowship program -- which prepares doctors to work in the medical sub-specialty -- are able to command higher average incomes than doctors in many other medical subspecialties, the authors wrote.
For instance, the median income of gastroenterologists in one recent year was $205,000, compared to $143,700 for infectious-disease specialists.
But when the researchers compared the gastroenterology applicants with those applying for infectious-disease fellowships, they found similar results. Thirty percent of applicants at the University of Pittsburgh infectious-disease fellowship program who reported published articles on their resumes included deliberate fabrications, they found.
Based on their findings, the researchers recommended that proper guidelines be put in place to ensure the accuracy of fellowship applications, and to spur medical institutions to make greater efforts to scrutinize potential applicants.
Fraudulent credentials affect far more than a doctor's entry into a fellowship program, according to Dr. Harry Kimball of the American Board of Internal Medicine, who wrote an editorial accompanying the study.
Such practices have "the potential to harm patients, because they misrepresent a physician's skills and competence to colleagues and the public," Dr. Kimball wrote.
Dr. William Golden, chairman of the American Medical Association's council on medical ethics, said that misrepresenting credentials is not confined to the field of medicine.
"My sense is that this is a reflection of our society as a whole. It's all over the place, and it's coming into medicine," Dr. Golden said. "I think program directors are appropriately cautious, but I would like to see institutions be a little firmer in confronting folks who are less than professional."
Dr. Lloyd Kitchens, chair of the American College of Physicians' ethics committee and an oncologist at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, agreed that resume fraud is a growing problem in medicine.
He added that institutions should come down hard on those who submit fabricated credentials.
"In my view, it's grounds for automatic disqualification of an applicant," he said. "At our institution, they would be history."