Digital Professionalism

An assessment of current medical student use of social media and their attitudes towards their own personal digital professionalism.


This is a fouth year student project which ran during the 2015-2016 academic year.

Social media forum use has become an intricate part of internet usage and communication with comments, videos and photos being posted online. Forums such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat and Tumbler are becoming increasingly popular (Kaplan 2010; von Muhlen 2012). The social networking site Facebook has over 550 million users (Hanna 2011). In 2011 Internet usage was recorded to reach 73% of the British population with a large proportion of students updating and creating online content on a weekly basis (av=2.8) (OxIS 2011).

The BMA recommend that doctors do not 'friend' past or present patients on facebook. Doctors are encouraged to use privacy setting however to be aware that these are not always to be trusted. Students as well as doctors should be should be careful of their online image as they should be aware that it could affect how they are viewed and trusted in their profession. Derogatory comments about fellow students/colleagues should not be posted on online internet pages(BMA 2012).

The GMC urge doctors and medical students to be aware that comments meant only for friends may be viewed by the wider public. Online information can be hard to remove and may be recoverable by other sources even when the uses has deleted it (GMC 1 2013). Patient confidentiality must be maintained when using all forms of social media regardless of the intended recipient (GMC 2 2013).

Many social media sites have privacy settings and other studies have looked at how many young doctors use these settings.

Key Research Questions

This project aims to increase the number of students using these settings (MacDonald 2010). Southampton University have produced an online package called MedSmart for medical students to help educate them on their digital professionalism (MedSmart 2014). This project hopes to highlight the need to improve this package or to increase awareness of it. It may also show the need to make the package compulsory to medical students. The research questions are:

1. What forms of social media do students use?
2. How aware are they of the content of their social media pages?
3. Do they use privacy settings?
4. How do students view the subject of digital professionalism in relation to their career choice?
5. Do students use MedSmart and if so, do they find it useful?


British Medical Association (BMA), 2012. Using social media: practical and ethical guidance for doctors and medical students. London: BMA. (Accessed 14 March 2015)

General Medical Council (GMC 1), 2013. Doctors’ use of social media. London, GMC. (Accessed 14 March 2015)

General Medical Council (GMC 2), 2013. Good medical practice. London, GMC. (Accessed 14 March 2015)

Hanna R, Rohm A, Crittenden VL. We're all connected: The power of the social media ecosystem. Business Horizons. 2011;54(3):265-273

Kaplan AM, Haenlein M. Users of the world, unite! The challenges and opportunities of Social Media. Business Horizons. 2010;53(1):59-68

(OxIS) Oxford Internet Surveys (OxIS). Next generation users: the internet in britain 2011. Oxford 2011. (Accessed: 14 March 2015)

MacDonald J, Sohn Sangsu, Ellis P. Privacy, professionalism and Facebook: a dilemma for young doctors. Medical Education. 2010;44(8):805-813 DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2923.2010.03720.x

MedSmart, 2014.

von Muhlen M, Ohno-Machado L. Reviewing social media use by clinicians. Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association. 2012;19(5):777-781 DOI: