Medical students post inappropriate content online

Originally published in Insidermedicine

The posting of unprofessional and inappropriate content online by medical students is a relatively common occurrence that medical schools are going to have to learn to deal with, according to research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Here are some reasons why it is not desirable for medical students to post inappropriate content online:

• The content may contain information that violates patient confidentiality

• It can reflect poorly on the student’s institution and on physicians as a whole

• It can reflect poorly on students themselves, possibly impairing future employment opportunities

Researchers from the Washington D.C. VA Medical Center sent anonymous surveys to the deans of student affairs, or their counterparts, of all the medical schools belonging to the Association of American Medical Colleges. The survey included questions about whether students have been found to have posted inappropriate or unprofessional content online and what was done about it.

Overall, 60% of the deans responded to the survey, and among these respondents 60% reported that indeed students had posted inappropriate content online, including 13% who reported that students had posted information that violated patient confidentiality. Other common transgressions included the posting of profanity or frankly discriminatory comments or the posting of depictions of intoxication or sexually suggestive material. Among the 45 deans who reported an incident and responded to questions about how the situation was handled, 67% reprimanded the student informally, while 13% dismissed the student. Overall, 38% of deans reported having policies covering student-posted online content, and 11% of schools without such policies were developing them. Deans who reported incidents were more likely to report having such policies, believing the issues could be effectively addressed, and having higher levels of concern about the topic.

Today’s research demonstrates how the advent of social networking sites like Facebook and content-sharing sites such as Flickr and YouTube are creating a new challenge for medical schools with respect to how their students represent themselves online. Policies for handling unprofessional behavior will need to be implemented.