More than a third of Australian medical students post inappropriate material to their social media accounts, despite awareness of guidelines on professional online conduct, according to research published online today by the Medical Journal of Australia.
Drs Christopher Barlow and Stewart Morrison from The Alfred and St Vincent's, under the supervision of David Pilcher, Adjunct Professor with the School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine at Monash University, conducted an online survey of Australian medical students during 6 months in 2013..
Of the 880 students who completed the survey, 34.7% (306 students) reported posting unprofessional content, mainly depictions of intoxication (301 students) or illegal drug use (14 students), or posting of patient information (14 students).
"Posting of unprofessional content was associated with evidence of posting of alcohol use and racist content online, MySpace use, and planning to change one's profile name after graduation", the researchers wrote.
"Factors associated with reduced unprofessional content included believing that videos depicting medical events with heavy alcohol use were inappropriate, and being happy with one's own social media portrayal.
"Exposure to guidelines on professional online conduct had no effect on posting behaviour."
On the other hand, "completing the survey prompted 35% of respondents to change their social media account privacy settings. This suggests that the reminder to do so, combined with reflecting on a desirable public image, may be a simple and effective intervention."
They concluded that medical educators needed to consider alternative approaches to teaching professional online conduct, "other than simply providing guidelines or policies".
"Students should be regularly prompted to evaluate and moderate their own online behaviour."