Purpose: To explore authorship issues related to medical students' primary research projects, assess medical students' knowledge about authorship issues in biomedical research, and determine their interest in learning about authorship guidelines.
Method: In 2011, the authors developed and conducted an electronic survey of 243 U.S. medical students who attended an educational event at the National Institutes of Health as part of their funded, yearlong research fellowship programs. The authors then analyzed the results using descriptive statistics.
Results: Of 243 students, 152 (63%) responded. Most (120/151; 79%) had completed or were in the process of writing a manuscript based on their projects. Of these, most (95/119; 80%) wrote the entire manuscript independently or with guidance. Whereas almost two-thirds (99/152; 65%) indicated that expectations and criteria for authorship were clarified for them, 26% (40/152) indicated that they were not. Most students (108/118; 92%) were in the authorship position they expected and had no concerns about who the other authors were (91/119; 77%). Of those with concerns, 52% (11/21) did not raise the issue for fear of challenging their mentor. Two-thirds (95/145; 66%) never received formal training in authorship guidelines, and 41% (42/103) believed such training would be valuable.
Conclusions: Although a majority of students had conversations about authorship and were clear about the guidelines for ethical authorship, additional work is needed. The authors recommend that academic institutions develop a menu of options for teaching students about this important area in research ethics.