BreakThru Learning: Professionalism on Social Media

Learner Series

Professionalism and Social Media

Table of Contents

Why is Professionalism on Social Media Important?

Let’s consider the story of a young resident at the Cleveland Clinic.

From 2011 to 2017 this resident made anti-Semitic tweets saying that she’ll “Give all the yahood the wrong meds”

In 2019 these tweets came to light. She not only lost her initial residency, but also a second residency, and as of August 2020 has been barred from medicine.

What you post on the internet, even if you think it’s hidden from sight, will return to haunt you. ESPECIALLY if it’s vile, racist, anti-semetic, and unbecoming of a physician who people expect to trust with their lives.

What is Professionalism?

Yale Medicine has a great definition of Professionalism.

“Professionalism implies that students serve the interests of patients above self-interest. Professionalism includes honesty, respect for colleagues, faculty, staff and peers and behavior in public that is not embarrassing to the ideal of the physician. Continual self-reflection about one’s attitudes and behaviors must occur as one strives to be a better physician.”

Professionalism on Social Media is simply an extension of this context, but online.

The Future Perception Test:

You may be thinking, I’m just a premedical student - how does all this talk about ‘ideal of a physician’ relate to me? But it does!
Don’t judge your behaviors in the now. Take your behavior today, fast-forward 30 years and ask yourself if I did that same thing, how would others judge me? Would people think your posts, behaviors, actions, attitudes, or mannerisms are unbecoming of a physician?

If the answer is yes. Don't do it.

Your Future Patients:

Consider this, you’re going to be treating and taking care of people from all types of backgrounds, with all sorts of vulnerabilities and disabilities, and when they are at their most vulnerable. Do you think they would put their care into the hands of an individual who just a few years ago posted a hateful comment against them? Other patients of different backgrounds, do you think they’d trust a physician who made comments like that? As a future physician you will be held to a higher standard than pretty much any other profession. This higher standard doesn’t stop when you leave the hospital. Make sure your behaving like a person worthy of everyone’s trust - both on and offline.

You have to always keep in mind that people are curious – they look up to you and will look you up. They will especially search for you online if the encounter was bad. Perhaps you were having a terrible day and unintentionally were short with a patient, perhaps you were just distracted by a very tragic case and your answers weren’t clear enough, perhaps your patient just has tremendous grief and wants someone to blame right now. That comes with the territory. It doesn’t have to be fair. If they are wary about you for any reason at all, they’ll immediately start googling your name.

How do you avoid problems with people searching for you? First all, just don’t be a terrible person online. Second, apply the future perception rule. Third, try googling yourself! Fourth, read our tips below.

Did You Know: An interesting study of reflective essays written by medical students concluded that lack of reflective ability is related to lapses in professionalism!

Have You Ever observed a situation where the other party lacked reflective ability?

Some Social Media tips you Need to know


Applications and Milestones

Any social media transgressions you make probably won’t stay hidden that long. Medical Schools and Residencies take on a lot of risk when they invite new students / physicians into their fold. They will do their homework.

You can bet that you'll be looked up when you first send in your application, later when the application committee reviews it, after you’re accepted, and during countless other milestones. People will Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram Follow you... and so on.

You need to start thinking about Professionalism on Social Media and behaving professionally online ASAP.


Social Media Dangers

Social Media can be wonderful, it allows us to stay in contact with friends and family, but you must remember that you can't easily detach the physician part of you from the regular joe part.

Professionalism on Social Media needs to be second nature for you.

Real Talk: If there are immature / stupid / vile things you said as a child and you’ve matured and grown up since then, do yourself the favor and sanitize those accounts. Even better don’t be the type of person who posts things like that.

It’s this writer’s opinion that being a physician is a privileged, sacred, and solemn duty and we should never allow for racist, sexist, ablest, or homophobic comments.


Professionalism on Social Media is You. And You are the Future Face of Medicine.

You may be a new Freshman in College, but never forget about the Future Perception Rule. Your behavior on social media today will turn into the face of medicine thirty years from now. Is your social media behavior worthy of your future patient’s respect trust? Do YOU respect your future patients, no matter their backgrounds or lifestyle? If the answer to any of this is no, perhaps you may not be cut-out to bear the responsibility of medicine. Hopefully this hasn’t scared you too much, unless you needed to be scared. In which case, you’re welcome!

The Path to Medical School Can Feel Long And Unclear

But never forget that we’re here to help. Do you have a question about something you just read in our BreakThru Learner Series?

Use the BreakThru Feed to Ask and Inspire others with your questions. Our Medical Student Mentors are always here to help you, for free, anytime.

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