The purpose of this study was to ascertain what medical students, doctors and the public felt was unprofessional for medical students, as future doctors, to post on a social media site, Facebook®. The significance of this is that unprofessional content reflects poorly on a student, which in turn can significantly affect a patient’s confidence in that student’s clinical abilities.
An online survey was designed to investigate the perceptions of University of Michigan medical students, attending physicians and non-health care university-wide employees (that serves as a subset of the public) regarding mock medical students’ Facebook® profile screenshots. For each screenshot, respondents used a 5-point Likert scale to rate ‘appropriateness’ and whether they would be ‘comfortable’ having students posting such content as their future doctors.
Compared with medical students, faculty members and public groups rated images as significantly less appropriate (p < 0.001) and indicated that they would be less comfortable (p < 0.001) having posting students as future doctors. All three groups rated screenshots containing derogatory or private information about patients, followed by images suggesting marijuana use, as least appropriate. Images conveying intimate heterosexual couples were rated as most appropriate. Overall, the doctor group, females and older individuals were less permissive when compared with employee and student groups, males and younger individuals, respectively.
The most significant conclusion of our study is that faculty members, medical students and the ‘public’ have different thresholds of what is acceptable on a social networking site. Our findings will prove useful for students to consider the perspectives of patients and faculty members when considering what type of content to post on their social media sites. In this way, we hope that our findings provide insight for discussions, awareness and the development of guidelines related to online professionalism for medical students.
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