"I have the right to a private life": medical students' views about professionalism in a digital world

Med Teach. 2013 Oct;35(10):826-31. doi: 10.3109/0142159X.2013.802301. Epub 2013 Jul 5.


Background: Social media site use is ubiquitous, particularly Facebook. Postings on social media can have an impact on the perceived professionalism of students and practitioners.

Aims: In this study, we explored the attitudes and understanding of undergraduate medical students towards professionalism, with a specific focus on online behaviour.

Methods: A volunteer sample of students (n = 236) responded to an online survey about understanding of professionalism and perceptions of professionalism in online environments. Respondents were encouraged to provide free text examples and to elaborate on their responses through free text comments. Descriptive analyzes and emergent themes analysis were carried out.

Results: Respondents were nearly unanimous on most questions of professionalism in the workplace, while 43% felt that students should act professionally at all times (including free time). Sixty-four free text comments revealed three themes: "free time is private time";" professionalism is unrealistic as a way of life"; and "professionalism should be a way of life".

Conclusions: Our findings indicate a disconnect between what students report of what they understand of professionalism, and what students feel is appropriate and inappropriate in both online and real life behaviour. Curriculum needs to target understanding of professionalism in online and real environments and communicate realistic expectations for students.

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Canada
  • Humans
  • Professional Role*
  • Social Media*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Students, Medical / psychology*