Perception of social media behaviour among medical students, residents and medical specialists

Perspect Med Educ. 2021 Apr 7. doi: 10.1007/s40037-021-00660-1. Online ahead of print.


Introduction: Behaviour is visible in real-life events, but also on social media. While some national medical organizations have published social media guidelines, the number of studies on professional social media use in medical education is limited. This study aims to explore social media use among medical students, residents and medical specialists.

Methods: An anonymous, online survey was sent to 3844 medical students at two Dutch medical schools, 828 residents and 426 medical specialists. Quantitative, descriptive data analysis regarding demographic data, yes/no questions and Likert scale questions were performed using SPSS. Qualitative data analysis was performed iteratively, independently by two researchers applying the principles of constant comparison, open and axial coding until consensus was reached.

Results: Overall response rate was 24.8%. Facebook was most popular among medical students and residents; LinkedIn was most popular among medical specialists. Personal pictures and/or information about themselves on social media that were perceived as unprofessional were reported by 31.3% of students, 19.7% of residents and 4.1% of medical specialists. Information and pictures related to alcohol abuse, partying, clinical work or of a sexually suggestive character were considered inappropriate. Addressing colleagues about their unprofessional posts was perceived to be mainly dependent on the nature and hierarchy of the interprofessional relation.

Discussion: There is a widespread perception that the presence of unprofessional information on social media among the participants and their colleagues is a common occurrence. Medical educators should create awareness of the risks of unprofessional (online) behaviour among healthcare professionals, as well as the necessity and ways of addressing colleagues in case of such lapses.

Keywords: Medical specialists; Medical students; Online professionalism; Residents; Social media.