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It's Your Own Risk: Medical Students' Perspectives on Online Professionalism

Chretien, Katherine C.; Goldman, Ellen F.; Beckman, Louis; Kind, Terry

Section Editor(s): Bernabeo, Elizabeth MPH; Ginsburg, Shiphra MD

doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e3181ed4778
Professional Behaviors

Background U.S. medical schools have reported unprofessional online content by medical students. To inform institutional policies and curricula, we conducted a qualitative study exploring medical student perspectives on online posting.

Method Six focus groups were conducted with students from a single institution in November 2009. Interviews were recorded, transcribed, and analyzed using qualitative methods.

Results Sixty-four students participated. Besides HIPAA violations and illegal activities, students disagreed as to what was inappropriate to post. They experienced online identity conflicts and described ambivalence toward Facebook. Students were concerned about online activity risks and lack of personal control. Their postings were guided by common sense and what they believed was expected from medical students. Students desired recommendations for appropriate content and suggested raising awareness through discussion.

Conclusions Medical students viewed online postings through a lens of personal risk. They desired recommendations but were sensitive to feeling controlled by their school.

Correspondence: Katherine C. Chretien, MD, 50 Irving Street, NW, Medical Service (111), Washington, DC 20422; e-mail:

© 2010 Association of American Medical Colleges