Tips from a clinical student: Behaving professionally online

Social Media Phones

In this article, a student explains the importance of behaving appropriately online.

We all use social media in one form or another; it keeps us regularly connected in a society where face-to-face interaction with loved ones is not always possible.

Social networking sites are also an especially invaluable tool for people on clinical courses. They are an excellent way to develop and maintain professional relationships, access support networks, and to discuss specific issues, interests, research and clinical experiences with other healthcare professionals worldwide.

So why are there so many rules and regulations for maintaining appropriate online behaviour? Surely what you do online has no reflection on how good a student you are in the real world?

This is what I thought to begin with. After a social media related mishap of my own, and after being able to deeply reflect on the subject, I can safely tell you that in a professional degree or job, your online presence is of great importance.

Picture this: you have just seen a patient, and everything in the appointment has gone fantastically. The patient goes home and thinks, “Wow, what a lovely individual. I’ll look them up on social media.”

A few clicks later and they’re scrolling through your Freshers photos of you being rowdy in town, and they’re reading your questionable posts containing foul language.

Now I’m not saying that nobody gets drunk and does stupid stuff at uni – most people do! But if said patient’s impression of you has changed from thinking you were a sensible, professional and trusted member of society, to worrying that you might turn up drunk to the next appointment, then this is an issue.

Patients’ confidence in the clinician is an invaluable asset to have; it helps to decrease anxiety and increase patient compliance, and thus the efficacy of your time with them. This doesn’t even stop with patients either. Employers nowadays are extremely likely to look up their applicants’ profiles, and anything inappropriate found would be an instant red flag. The type of person these types of things portray you to be to the general public is not worth the five seconds of laughter that might come from posting things like this. Always think before you post; would your grandma approve of it? If the answer is no, it’s probably best to avoid sharing it with the world wide web.

As a clinical student likely to already be familiar with your social media standards, it’s all well and good to think that you’ll never use it irresponsibly, but it’s important to note that you can still be held responsible for an inappropriate post even though you did not create it.

Make sure nobody has access to your social media accounts except you. You never know who might inadvertently be able to go on your profile and post something you wouldn’t approve of!

Ensure full password protection and highest security settings on all your electronic devices/profiles and educate your friends who may not fully understand the implications of sensible social media use. Inform them of the guidelines that you wish to comply with, in the hope that this will prevent them from posting something in the future that might unintentionally land you in hot water.

In summary, there are three main points to always bear in mind when using social media.

  • Never share confidential information inappropriately
  • Maintain appropriate boundaries in the relationships you have with patients and colleagues
  • Ensure that your conduct justifies your patients’ trust in you and the publics’ trust in the profession

I have found that a good approach to this is to believe the idea that on the internet, anything that has been posted online, is there for life. Even if it’s only been posted for a few minutes, you don’t know who might have saved it, shared it, or simply seen it in that short space of time. And what’s worse, is that you don’t know for definite that it won’t come back to haunt you. You might think I’m using the ultimate scare tactics here, but in this scenario, it’s better to be safe than sorry, and it’s better than having something as banal and avoidable as a social media post to stand in the way of you and your dream job.

Leave a comment