The problem with publications

BMJ 2010; 341 doi: (Published 03 December 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c6252
  1. Esohe C Omoregie, foundation trainee, East Kent University Hospital Trust, Canterbury, UK
  1. ecomoregie{at}

It is drummed into medical students and doctors across the world that, to get ahead, you need to get published. “Getting published” is often used as a catch-all term to refer to any writing that might boost academic credentials—presentations, leaflets, full papers, abstracts, guidelines, and so on.

In my first foundation year, I was no different from any other junior struggling to pull myself out of that cohort of trainees who wouldn’t get a training post. I was perhaps an overenthusiastic house officer, and I suggested to my then supervisor that I write up a case for a journal.

He didn’t see the publication potential that I did. So I went it alone, eventually presenting the case report at a national conference. I had exceeded my supervisor’s expectations, and naturally I was pleased. It was exciting; the case was fairly unusual, and I really felt that I was changing the face of medicine from my very small platform.

As is so often the case, however, my happiness didn’t last. It seems there is such a thing as too much publication: the case was so interesting that the conference organisers suggested sending out a press release to the national media. Naively, I found all the media talk very exciting, but it didn’t take long for me to realise the full implications of what was suggested. The sensitivity of the case combined with the high level of interest and exposure could destroy the anonymity of the patient whose case I had described.

I felt out of my depth, and it was only after seeking medicolegal advice, rigorous scrutiny of the original patient consent form, and gaining the opinion of a colleague who had found himself in a similar position that the situation was eventually rectified. My case was left alone, but I had come perilously close to things going terribly wrong—not just for myself, but also for the patient involved.

It’s all too easy to publish findings from research and forget the information source. What does it mean for those patients affected? It doesn’t hurt to take a cautionary glance both ways before stepping into the limelight. As is often advocated, prevention is better than cure.


Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c6252

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