Help Medical Students Maintain Online Professionalism

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I’d like to be very straightforward – most med students who utilize social media are amenable to suggestions and thankful whenever our colleagues, professors, mentors, and even the general public question our postings. As a group of aspiring physicians, we share the same intention – to educate others while in turn educating ourselves – but we find ourselves challenging accords of professionalism from time to time.

“A 47 y/o Caucasian male with MRN # 123-456-789 presents with the only documented case of Condition X known to mankind” is obviously going overboard and a prototypic HIPAA violation.

But what if I write about seeing a patient with hypertension in clinic today? Given how prevalent hypertension is, would that constitute “identifiable information?” If hypertension were replaced with something less common ( take priapism, for example), am I more likely to offend someone? Where do we draw the line?

Extremely conservative individuals would argue that students shouldn’t write anything on public domains. Facebook, Twitter, personal blogs, and the like should be terminated at the risk of sacrificing one’s professionalism or image. My view is precisely the opposite. By stifling our adoption of social media into medicine, we’re inevitably working against the grain of where society is heading.

Over the last decade, social media has become a cornerstone for business, advertising, communication and it continues to permeate other fields. We need to embrace social media and utilize it to exercise our creativity, but at the same time, it’s important that we are each other’s whistle-blowers. If you’re a physician. Or a dental student. Or a nurse, PA, or tech. Even if you’re outside of healthcare – it doesn’t hurt to contact the writer (myself included) directly, voice your concern, and help mold our virtues of professionalism.

It’s remarkable how often as a healthcare professional, “one mistake” is all it takes – a slip of the hand in the operating room, an improperly dosed medication, and in this case, a single blog post or Tweet which can be inappropriately extrapolated to represent one’s entire career. I say we continue using social media as a learning opportunity to impart our knowledge and enthusiasm in a way that is both professional and efficacious, but it can only be done with appropriate guidance along the way. 🙂

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