Med Schools, Residencies Check Candidates' Social Profiles

If they’re doing it for college admissions, it only makes sense to do it for medical school admissions, and guess what: they are. A small but growing number of medical school admissions officers and post-med school residency program directors say they are using social media sites to do background research on candidates, according to a new study published in the Postgraduate Medical Journal.

The PMJ study found that 9% of medical school admissions officers and residency program directors admitted to snooping for information about candidates on social media, while 19% said they use the wider Internet for the same purpose. And that proportion may well go up, considering that 58% of survey respondents said they didn’t consider this kind of research an invasion of privacy, and 53% said they consider “online professionalism” a valid criterion in the admissions process. On the other hand, only around 3% of respondents had actually rejected an applicant based on what they found on social media.

Fortunately some medical schools are beginning to offer social media training for aspiring doctors. In September I wrote about a new social media curriculum being tested at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University.  The experimental coursework, funded by a two-year grant from the Institute on Medicine as a Profession (IMAP) and the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation, will train med students on the appropriate use of social media as part of the medical profession.

Bestowed as part of the foundations’ “Education and Training to Professionalism Initiative,” the grant will help educate medical students about the uses of social media in the professional setting, as well as the boundaries they should observe, both out of respect for patient privacy and in order to protect themselves. This includes maintaining compliance with HIPAA regulations and more subtle issues like what to do if a patient asks to be friends on Facebook. A central part of the curriculum will involve first- and second-year medical students looking at their own social media footprints for instances of inappropriate content. Third- and fourth-year students will interview community members to study how the patient population uses social media, and how social media might help doctors communicate with patients about healthcare.

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