I will include my Twitter handle on residency applications. You should, too.

It’s the beginning of February and this year’s residency interviews are wrapping up.

It is widely known, even encouraged, that medical students change their social media profile names or deactivate their accounts while applying and interviewing for medical residencies.  David becomes AviD, Jessica is now Jes Sica, and Sarah morphs into Miss S; students are leery of admissions committees stumbling upon their accounts, changing their profile names to something that would be harder to trace in an attempt to erase their Internet presence.

Yet, this seems at odds with an ever-growing number of physicians, hospital executives, medical association leaders, and even residency directors who are actively using and promoting social media involvement.  For instance, Mark Kuczewski, a medical educator and bioethicist at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, recently published a blog about how health care professionals can and why they should get more involved in social media.  Social media has been infiltrating the medical field for quite some time now. Conferences are releasing their hashtags, professional organizations are inviting members to join their Facebook and LinkedIn groups, and leaders are tweeting about their most current and innovative research.

For the generation that is probably the most comfortable using social media, it is a shame that medical students are being advised to hide what could be one of their natural assets.  I understand that many may have information on some social media accounts that they would rather not share with residency programs; still, it seems that the wrong message is being disseminated.  Medical students shouldn’t be encouraged to pull back from use of all social media sites; rather, they should be provided training in medical school on how to use social media professionally, and even further, how they can use social media to shape their professional identity within the medical community. These skills will continue to be important as students progress through medical school, enter residency, and ultimately become full-time practicing physicians.

While some medical schools across the nation are beginning to institute such training, these curricula are few and far between.  Even schools that have well-documented social media policies tend to focus more on the liabilities than the advantages.  Concerns about privacy and professionalism are important and need to be stated, however social media is more than just a liability for the health care professional.

Personally, I have found social media to be a great supplement to my medical school education.  When I learn about a disease, I can pop into the related Twitter community and find out more about what the experience of having that disease is like for that patient population.  I have connected with physicians and medical students across the world in chats about health care leadership, bioethics, mental health stigma, and public health.  My Twitter account has been a way for me to advocate for key health policy issues and be present in the day-to-day conversations about health activism.

It is important for medical students to start developing their social media identity, and I believe medical schools could be doing more to support their students in this regard.  For the many medical students who aren’t yet taking advantage of the learning opportunities that social media provides, now is the time to begin! Showing your proficiency in health care social media is one great way to set yourself apart. Start building up your social media presence so you can have an account that you would be proud for medical schools, residencies, and recruiters to see. I am not hesitant to say that I would welcome any residency director to follow me on Twitter.

Jennifer Chevinsky is a medical student and can be reached on Twitter @jchevinsky. She is the creator and moderator of @BioethxChat on Twitter.

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