Monday, February 2, 2009

Should Medical Students Make Fools of Themselves on the Internet?

Researchers at the University of Florida don't think so. They believe that physicians in training ought to remove those keg party snapshots from Facebook, and instead use social networking sites "to enhance their professional identities." The co-authors deplore the fact that medical students reveal their political preferences, relationship status fluctuations, and unsavory interests (they mention "Texas Chainsaw Massacre") for future patients to see.

The problem is, when virtually every professional-in-training has already gone "1 million strong for Obama/McCain/Barr/Nader/Pigasus" or, (for the more brazen), "I would never sleep with a [insert political party here]," then the definition of "professional" has already been, de facto, redefined. Why get rid of (or clean up) Facebook accounts, utilized by 64% of medical students, when it is so much easier to invite the other 36% to join along?

The article states,
"There is some evidence that students do begin to understand the impact of Facebook as they approach graduation. The study found that while 64 percent of medical students had public Facebook accounts, only 12 percent of resident physicians did."
To me, these statistics don't indicate any panicked account closures en masse, but speak to the flood of Mark Zuckerberg's contemporaries who have recently entered medical school, and collectively just say "meh."

One of the researchers argues that
“Doctors are held to a higher standard...There are stated codes of behavior that are pretty straightforward, and those standards encourage the development of a professional persona.”

If someone simply enjoys doing colonoscopies, and also singing karaoke, must he be a man at home, and a doctor in the street? Should we hold doctors to a "higher standard" when it comes to non-medical matters? Does this concept simply re-enforce the old-fashioned notion that doctors are "different from you and me?"

Granted, there are some things doctors could publicize that would convince me to avoid sitting next to him on a bus, let alone let him perform my cardiac surgery. If some-one joined a fictitious "I Hate My Patients Club" or some other ridiculous group, it might be sensible to choose a different doctor. However, by announcing his opinions on Facebook, rather than simply confiding in his poker buddies, the doctor does me the favor, as now I can cross him off my PPO list.

However, with 21st century snark and sarcasm, we can't interpret the significance of someone's membership in even the most unsavory of medical student groups- such as,“Physicians looking for Trophy Wives in Training” (it is unclear to me this is a dangling modifier, or if the medical students emphasize the "training" of the "trophies" more than their own). In this post-modern generation, we don't know if the students actually aspire to this vision of their futures, or if they're actually mocking a largely passé Dr. 90210 attitude, in which marrying boring women1 is considered desirable.

I suppose that, no matter the intentions, it is still perhaps inappropriate to advertise activities or opinions that would cause offense. But once the details of our lives are inevitably strewn across the internet, someone is going to find something objectionable (My doctor is President of the Barry Manilow Fan Club???) Where would we draw the line? The answer to this might be obvious to some boomers out there, but I can safely say that many of us young folk haven't a clue.

We tend to wistfully look back at those old-fashioned physicians of yore (or at least those of 1960s television)- caring, nurturing, and kind. However, today's doctors can still achieve these qualities without dulling our personas- even "Marcus Welby M.D." opens with Dr. Kiley riding his badass motorcycle.

1. The doc's wife may be intelligent. I've never seen the show.


l33t MD said...

While it may already be too late to save my online persona, due to it being severely tainted by some public debates I participated in under full name during my younger days of heady naivete, I do agree that a certain degree of decorum is in order when appearing online. Future patients will google you, and will judge you based on some random subset of prejudices they carry -- be it religious, political or otherwise. That's why nowadays I prefer to keep the exposure to a minimum. I have a Facebook profile, where I'm even a member of the group "Fuck medicine, I want to be a ninja!", but I keep it private and am very selective about who I allow access. In practice that means all my Facebook friends are medical students, which, when I think about it, is kinda sad... :)

Anonymous said...

It's a good thing that I won't have "Half M.D." on my correspondence for patients to look up.

Heal Spieler said...

halfmd- lol. I suppose I sacrificed that for the sake of blogosphere fame and fortune.

133t- I agree with you that patients will inevitably google us future docs. I am perhaps a pessimist (or an optimist about the powers of technology), that it will soon be easy for people to trace practically any footstep I've ever taken on the internet. I have to go under the assumption of "write as if syou expect someone to link your name to it in the future." And once I go under that assumption, I just say, hell with it, I may as well just go public.

Joshua said...

There's another reason that the physicians would have a lower percentage of Facebook accounts. Facebook is still primarily associated with younger people (not as much as it used to be, but still).

There's another reason this a bit ridiculous; I don't care what movies my doctor likes. I don't care what religion my doctor is (ok, if I had a doctor who was a Jehovah Witness or a Scientologist or a Young Earth Creationist I might be worried but even then these won't impact most issues). It doesn't alter the doctor's ability to heal at all.

Moreover, Maybe having Facebook profiles is a good thing. It will make the people who see them realize their doctors are actually people. Moreover, many people seem uncomfortable or scared around doctors. Arguably, this will help personalize doctors in a way that might reduce such fears.

Cockroach Catcher said...

Good post. Got it through Grand Rounds.

The Cockroach Catcher

Heal Spieler said...

Joshua- I agree. Those are all good points.
Cockroach- Thanks for the compliment!

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