To the Editor:
Given that the largest proportion of social media platform users are young adults, the question of how to best use social media may be most pressing for medical trainees. Yet, few resources are available on how to productively leverage it. Particularly for health care students who are underrepresented in medicine (URiM), social media could play a powerful role in facilitating access to mentors and in building communities.
Of the 38,117 full-rank professors in U.S. medical schools, the proportion who are URiM is dishearteningly low.1 Current faculty do not mirror the increasingly diverse medical student body across the nation. As such, finding mentors—a key aspect of student success—is challenging for URiM students. Social media provides them with access to a network of underrepresented mentors. When URiM providers candidly share their experiences navigating academic and health care spaces online, social media serves as a tool for students to find motivation to continue building toward a future in which they assume those roles as leaders in their fields.
Beyond mentorship, online platforms allow students to connect with each other over shared identities, easing feelings of isolation. For instance, the Medical Student Pride Alliance (MSPA) was formed as an online idea in 2018, quickly becoming the first national medical student organization for sexual and gender minority (SGM) trainees.2 MSPA capitalized on social media to expand to over 50 medical schools nationwide, helping many affiliated chapters launch their institution’s first SGM student group. From an online network of 6 medical students, MSPA is now present in 30 states, with a growing member base that connects via digital platforms to advocate and build community.
Social media can thus be a helpful tool to use for recruitment and retention of URiM health care providers. Discussions in medical education have primarily centered around the consequences of inappropriate usage of social media. However, it will benefit students if their institutions also educate on strategies for how to use online platforms innovatively and productively, using examples such as MSPA. Given the challenges that many underrepresented medical trainees encounter seeking mentorship in a field lacking representation, schools must provide students the tools to leverage social media as a resource to alleviate these barriers while also working to increase diversity in health care.
1. Association of American Medical Colleges. Table 3: U.S. medical school faculty by rank and race/ethnicity, 2018. https://www.aamc.org/data-reports/faculty-institutions/interactive-data/data-reports/faculty-institutions/interactive-data/2018-us-medical-school-faculty
. Published December 31, 2019 Accessed August 6, 2020
2. Medical Student Pride Alliance. About MSPA. https://www.medpride.org/about-mspa
. Accessed August 6, 2020.