Social Media: One Size Doesn’t Fit All

socialized_medicineBy Bryan Vartabedian, MD

When we think about the boundaries of communication technology and social media, we tend to put students, residents, and faculty into the same bucket. Policies for one are the policies for the others. But these are all very different people with respect to their ability to understand and handle their public presence.

The latitude given a publicly seasoned attending should be different than that of third-year medical student. For example, I encourage students to avoid online discussion about the hospitals they are rotating in. This is because:

  • They don’t yet know what represents the normal workings of a hospital. There are things that seem strange or unjust to a trained eye but happen for a good reason. Perhaps more important, the viewing public doesn’t understand what students don’t know.
  • Students are sorting out what represents the thoughts and ideas for their close personal network versus those for global publication. They’re learning which conversations belong where.
  • They’re figuring out their public presence.

Students come to medicine with a relatively self-focused view of their networked world, and don’t yet understand how they fit into the broader networked world. As they mature professionally, they recognize that they are part of a broader community, which brings accountability. This progression has real importance when we expose ourselves to the great wide open.

The way we handle ourselves must be driven by the context of where we are. Discussions, guidelines, and educational programs need to be designed around the specific differences that exist at various levels of experience and clinical maturity. Not all policies fit these different levels.

While the principles of privacy and professionalism in the public space shouldn’t differ at any level, the way we approach and discuss those principles necessarily must.

Vartabedian–Bryan Vartabedian, MD, writes monthly for Wing of Zock about the intersection of health care, medical education, and social media. He is a pediatrician at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, and blogs at 33 charts.

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