To friend or not to friend? Social networking and faculty perceptions of online professionalism

Acad Med. 2011 Dec;86(12):1545-50. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e3182356128.


Purpose: To assess faculty perceptions of professional boundaries and trainee-posted content on social networking sites (SNS).

Method: In June 2010, the Clerkship Directors in Internal Medicine conducted its annual survey of U.S. and Canadian member institutions. The survey included sections on demographics and social networking. The authors used descriptive statistics and tests of association to analyze the Likert scale responses and qualitatively analyzed the free-text responses.

Results: Of 110 institutional members, 82 (75%) responded to the survey. Of the 40 respondents who reported current or past SNS use, 21 (53%) reported receiving a "friend request" from a current student and 25 (63%) from a current resident. Of these, 4 (19%) accepted the student request and 12 (48%) accepted the resident request. Sixty-three of 80 (79%) felt it was inappropriate to send a friend request to a current student, 61 (76%) to accept a current student's request, 42 (53%) to become friends with a current resident, and 61 (81%) to become friends with a current patient. Becoming friends with a former student, former resident, or colleague was perceived as more appropriate. Younger respondents were less likely to deem specific student behaviors inappropriate (odds ratio [OR] 0.18-0.79; adjusted OR 0.12-0.86, controlling for respondents' sex, rank, and SNS use), although none reached statistical significance.

Conclusions: Some internal medicine educators are using SNSs and interacting with trainees online. Their perceptions on the appropriateness of social networking behaviors provide some consensus for professional boundaries between faculty and trainees in the digital world.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Canada
  • Clinical Clerkship
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Education, Medical, Graduate
  • Faculty, Medical*
  • Female
  • Friends
  • Humans
  • Internal Medicine / education*
  • Internet / statistics & numerical data
  • Interprofessional Relations
  • Male
  • Perception
  • Professional Competence*
  • Social Networking*
  • United States