Whose paper is it anyway? Authorship criteria according to established scholars in health professions education

Sebastian Uijtdehaage, Brian Mavis, Steven J. Durning

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Citations (Scopus)
75 Downloads (Pure)


Purpose The health professions education (HPE) community is a crossroad of scholars from various disciplines with potentially conflicting views on who qualifies as author. Established HPE scholars are expected to model ethical research conduct, but no research has investigated the extent to which authorship criteria are understood and applied by leaders in the field. This study investigated what leading scholars consider appropriate criteria for authorship and how often these criteria are ignored.

Method Directors of research and editors of HPE journals completed an anonymous survey between September 2015 and August 2016 with questions about authorship practices they experienced and recommended, common authorship criteria, and how often they had encountered unethical authorship decisions.

Results Out of 82 invited scholars, 46 participated in the survey (response rate = 56.0%). They reported a stark contrast between current and recommended authorship practices. Twenty-two (51.2%) had experienced unethical pressure regarding authorship order, 15 (34.9%) had not been included as author when they qualified, and 25 (58.1%) had seen authors included who did not qualify. A slight majority (n = 25; 58.1%) correctly identified authorship standards widely adopted by biomedical journals.

Conclusions A surprising proportion of leaders in the HPE field had encountered unethical authorship practices. Despite widely disseminated authorship criteria, the findings suggest that offering authorship to those who do not qualify, or arguably worse, excluding those who should have been included, remains a common practice. The authors offer strategies to scholars, editors, and tenure and promotion committees to combat these practices.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1171-1175
Number of pages5
JournalAcademic Medicine
Issue number8
Early online date1 Jan 2018
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2018
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Written work prepared by employees of the Federal Government as part of their official duties is, under the U.S. Copyright Act, a “work of the United States Government” for which copyright protection under Title 17 of the United States Code is not available. As such, copyright does not extend to the contributions of employees of the Federal Government.


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