Study Finds Social Networking Sites a Growing Factor in Medical Student and Resident Selections

In the largest study of its kind, Miller School researchers who queried hundreds of medical school admissions and residency selection professionals conclude that social networking sites will increasingly influence the selection of medical students and physician trainees in the U.S.

Published online November 8 in the Postgraduate Medical Journal, the study led by Carl I. Schulman, M.D., Ph.D., M.S.P.H., associate professor of surgery and Director of the William Lehman Injury Research Center, suggests that formal guidelines for professional behavior on social networking websites, which the Miller School already has, might help applicants avoid unforeseen bias in the selection process.

“Our study highlights the incredible impact social media will have on every aspect of our society, including the selection of our future doctors,” Schulman said.

Schulman and his Lehman Center co-authors based their findings on 600 responses to a 26-question survey they sent to program directors, residency coordinators or others involved in medical school admissions and residency programs.

“As we know, the use of social networking sites like Facebook is ubiquitous in modern culture, especially among younger generations, and medical school and residency applicants are no exception,” Schulman said. “Yet little is understood about the consequences of revealing personal information online, so we decided to assess how familiar U.S. medical schools and residency programs are with social networking websites, whether they use them, and what their attitudes about them are.”

Although a minority of medical schools and residency programs routinely use social networking websites in the selection process, more than half of the survey respondents (53 percent) agreed that online professionalism should be a factor in the selection process and that “unprofessional behavior” evinced from wall posts/comments, photos, and group memberships should compromise an applicant.

The study also found that one in seven (15 percent) of the responding medical schools and residency programs maintain a profile on a social networking site. Half of the individual survey respondents said they themselves had a social networking profile on Facebook (97 percent), LinkedIn (22 percent), or Twitter (13 percent).

Almost two out of three respondents also said they were somewhat or very familiar with researching individuals on social networking sites and, although only 9 percent said they used social networking sites to evaluate applicants, one in five (19 percent) said they used some type of internet search to glean information on applicants.

About one in seven (15 percent) of the respondents also said their medical school or residency program planned to use web/social networking sites to search out information on candidates in the future; 29 percent were neutral on the issue.

Most of the 600 respondents – 85 percent – to the Miller School survey were involved in reviewing only residency program applications; 7 percent were involved in reviewing both medical school and residency applications; and 8 percent reviewed only medical school applications.

An international peer-reviewed journal of continuing professional development, the Postgraduate Medical Journal also featured the study, “Influence of social networking websites on medical school and residency selection process,” in a news release.

In addition to Schulman, the study co-authors are Fernanda Kuchkarian, M.P.H., research associate; Kelly F Withum, B.S., research assistant, and Jill M Graygo, M.A., M.P.H., M.S. Ed., program director, all of the William Lehman Injury Research Center, and Felix S. Boecker, M.D., a 2010 Miller School graduate who is now a general surgery resident in Pennsylvania.

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