Spotlight on Social Networking Use Among Medical Students

Survey finds a minority of medical schools have policies governing online posting by students
By Jeff Muise
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Sept. 22 (HealthDay News) -- A majority of medical schools report instances of medical students posting unprofessional content on social networking Web sites, including some instances of violations of patient confidentiality, according to a report in the Sept. 23/30 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Katherine C. Chretien, M.D., of the Washington D.C. Veterans Administration Medical Center, and colleagues conducted an anonymous electronic survey of deans of student affairs, or counterpart administration officials at 130 accredited U.S. medical schools in March and April of 2009. The survey elicited information on students posting unprofessional content online, the types of infraction, disciplinary actions taken, whether institutional policies were in place, and if new policies were planned.

The researchers note that 78 schools responded with 60 percent reporting incidents of unprofessional online content being posted by medical students. The postings included profanity (52 percent), explicit discriminatory language (48 percent), photographs of intoxication (39 percent), sexually suggestive material (38 percent), and violations of patient confidentiality (13 percent). Disciplinary actions included informal warning (67 percent) and student dismissal (7 percent). Furthermore, 38 percent of schools reported having policies covering student-posted online content and 11 percent were developing policies. Respondents reporting incidents were significantly more likely to have a policy covering unprofessional online content than those that did not (51 versus 18 percent).

"Medical students may not be aware of how online posting can reflect negatively on medical professionalism or jeopardize their careers. Educating students about these concerns may change Internet behavior," the authors write.

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