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Social Media for Medical Students

0 Written by: | Tuesday, Feb 21, 2012 10:00am

Often when we hear about students tweeting, it’s for the wrong reasons — the football player breaking NCAA rules by using racial slurs against an opponent; the high schooler who got in trouble with the Kansas governor for an inappropriate hashtag (#heblowsalot). But with social media an increasingly pervasive part of daily life, it would be nice if there was some way to make it work for students, instead of just against them.

Cue Meg Chisolm, a psychiatrist and professor at Johns Hopkins. She’s a fan of tweeting, both personally and professionally, and she’s hoping to use her experience to help Johns Hopkins medical students figure out where social media might fit into their medical careers.

Chisolm herself has two professional Twitter accounts; @whole_patients demystifies psychiatry for doctors and patients alike (sample tweet:  Curiosity is one of core features I look for in #meded interviews. Surprisingly rare among med school & residency applicants) and @psychpearls, where she offers clinical tidbits for psychiatrists -in-training (sample tweet:  Lack of reliability in dx of specific DSM personality d/os raises the question:  is this diagnosis or “sophisticated” name-calling? #meded). She sees them as ways to connect with her colleagues, patients, and the wider public.

But social media plus medicine can be a volatile combination, too — especially for students who’ve grown up in a low-privacy world. The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found an alarming number of blogs and Facebook posts by docs-in-training that contained all sorts of identifying information. Even when patients aren’t involved, a young doctor’s social media presence might not exactly connote professionalism, depending on how many look-at-me-wasted-at-Mardi-Gras pictures s/he has up.

Which is exactly why Chisolm and her colleague Tabor Flickinger are designing a pilot study to train third-year medical students on the potential benefits and pitfalls of social media use. Other medical schools, including Brown, the University of Chicago, and George Washington, already have social media curricula; this is Hopkins’s chance to catch up.

Students in the study will post on a private blog, which will help them mull over the challenging situations posed by their medical training. “They can reflect on encounters and situations that might have bothered them, or talk about successes,” Dr. Flickinger said. “This experience will teach them skills of reflective writing, and to think critically about issues of professionalism. It’s also a proactive way to get them to use social media in a professional way before they are released into the wild, so to speak. And do so in a protected way.”

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