As a medical student blogger, I can’t help but notice the increase in medicine/ pre-med related blogs. I also noticed a lack of professionalism coming from a lot of these digital outlets. Medicine is known to be pretty competitive and cut-throat so I’m excited to see the collaboration of students and healthcare professionals through various online platforms, blogs, and social media accounts. But with that being said, I think we can all afford to have a bit of a refresher on online relations and how to stay professional in the digital world.
As a future doctor I feel like I am scrutinized even more than my non-medical blogger peers. I’m not saying that non-physicians don’t face consequences for getting out of hand on the internet, but healthcare providers are held to an extremely high standard both in an out of the hospital. People in healthcare have been kicked out of residency, suspended from leadership positions or even fired for reckless public behavior. Today I’m sharing some things I feel that premedical and medical students should consider before creating an online presence.
Before you start putting your information on the internet, you should consider looking to see if your school (or employer) has a social media or online presence policy. My medical school does and so does the healthcare system associated with my school. I can’t say that I’ve read it in it’s entirety but I have looked it over briefly. From what I could understand, my school allows students to have their own social media accounts, however, they are expected to conduct themselves in a professional way and they are not allowed to speak on behalf of the university. So for instance, if I received a question from the media regarding an incident at my school, I’d likely give no comment and defer the answer to the schools media/ PR team. You should never speak on behalf of an institution or someone else affiliated with it. To protect myself, I only share about my personal experiences and never try to represent the thoughts or opinions of my institution.
Another policy that is important for ALL healthcare professionals and students is to follow HIPAA. HIPAA provides privacy for all patients and under this protection, you are not allowed to share ANYTHING related to a patient’s care without their consent. I often see people sharing excerpts of what they saw in clinic or in hospital that day. Even if you exclude the patient’s name, the gender, age, and diagnosis are still considered identifiable information. And of course photos are a big no-no. I know that faculty and attending physicians (for you non-medical folks, attendings are the senior physicians who have finished residency training) may take pictures or share cases for didactics, but as a trainee, that’s not your place. Personally, my advice to student bloggers is to refrain from sharing any details pertaining to what you saw during your clinical experiences. I rarely talk about patient experiences and when I do I speak in VERY GENERAL terms. So for instance, I may tweet “So sad to see pediatric trauma cases for the first time” but you’d never see me say something like “So sad to see the 3 year old who was hit by the truck in the trauma bay with rib fractures”. Be mindful that you don’t control who sees your content so you never know who is watching. On the rare occasion that I do have a second to snap a pic/ selfie in the workroom or something, I make sure that there are no faces or people in the background. I do this to protect the privacy of others. Some units have explicit “no pictures” signs (psych wards usually have this) so I do not take pictures at all in those areas. Some might say that I’m too strict regarding HIPAA rules but I rather be safe then sorry. It’s not worth getting kicked out of med school over a selfie.
Okay so maybe you’ve gotten this far and you’re saying “Okay Trisha, well I have an anonymous account” or “I don’t reveal my full name” or “I didn’t even mention where I live/ go to school”. Hate to burst your bubble, but you are not exempt from being professional. Even if you are anonymous be mindful of what you say online. You may be anonymous now, but in the future you may change your mind to be public and you don’t want people digging up dirt from when you were posting recklessly from when you assumed no one knew who you were. I’ve seen many anonymous accounts that still reveal information about themselves which narrows down their gender, ethnicity, school, location, etc. So even when you think you’re living a secretive online life, it doesn’t take much for someone to put the dots together to figure out who you are. One time, I had someone send me a resume for review (something I offer for pre-med students) from their anonymous account. It included their real name and school. I keep all information private but I was shocked to find that this person was being rude to others on social media. Perhaps they didn’t realize that they revealed their name and school to me or maybe they didn’t care. Either way, whether you’re anonymous or not, you should represent yourself with the highest standards and levels of professionalism at all times.
This is obviously not an anonymous blog so for me, I struggle with how much personality I can reveal on my blog and social media. My blog is actually a part of my resume so I know that future employers and institutions will likely look up my blog and possibly the associated social media pages. Honestly though, I have nothing to hide. I think I do a good job of representing myself online personally and professionally. I’m just a black girl living in LA who loves to mentor future doctors but equally loves reality TV, Beyonce, Jesus, trap music, and bottomless brunch (not necessarily in that order). I advocate for diversity in medicine and am passionate about working in healthcare to improve healthcare for minorities and underserved communities. This is me in real life and this is me online. I do realize that some may think that because I’m in medical school I shouldn’t tweet about Beyonce or the latest Real Housewives of Atlanta episode but I have no problem being honest about my interests. Queen Bey and reality TV are not everyone’s cup of tea but I don’t think that those interests negate my skills, abilities, and professional accomplishments. Navigating an online presence is a balance. When using social media and creating a blog you want to an authentic voice, just be mindful of staying professional and respectful at all times.
One other tip I want to share is more so general blogging advice (as opposed to professionalism in blogging) but I’ll share it here anyways. In the world of medicine there is an increasing number of students and healthcare professionals that are on the internet. You are not going to cater to everybody. It can be hard trying to establish yourself in a sea of other voices but stay true to yourself. I realized that a majority of the people who engage with my content are women or minorities interested in medicine. I may not cater to other demographics or those with other interests but I know my niche and tribe. I write for myself and for the people who I know check on my blog everyday to see if I’ve posted. I found the greatest success in blogging when I realized that I can’t be everything for everybody.
I know that these tips may seem self explanatory but you’d be surprised to hear about the unprofessional things that I have seen people do online. I know that some pre-meds argue that admissions officers don’t have time to frequent blogs, forums and social media but you best believe their students do (who do you think is giving you all the “inside scoop”), and I have known people to tell admission committees know when they see problematic behavior on the internet, and yes, it affects admissions decisions. Remember, the internet never forgets, so don’t be the one to get caught up in Internet drama and scandal. If you worked your butt off to get into medical school, don’t let something as trivial as twitter or Instagram be the reason why you get kicked out or disciplined… it’s simply not worth it.
To keep myself in check, when I post I ask myself 2 things: 1) Is this how I really feel? I only want to create genuine and truthful content so while it’s easy to glamorize my life on Instagram, I simply prefer to be myself. Next I ask, 2) How would my parents and Jesus feel about this? I’m still growing in my walk as a Christian so I may not always get this right. And sometimes my parents and I disagree on what’s acceptable and what’s not. But at the end of the day, I want to ensure that they won’t be embarrassed if a family member or family friend visits my blog. And lastly I ask myself 3) Will this get me in trouble at school/ with my career? I try to promote positivity and I don’t see how sharing my journey living in LA for medical school would cause trouble but regardless, I always make sure to double and triple check that I won’t offend anyone and that my posts won’t be considered problematic.
If you already have a blog maybe it’s time to do an audit of your pictures, posts, social media account and websites. And if you’re considering starting one, I hope that you keep these tips in mind as you start to create your digital content.