The impact of social media

Billions of people use social media every day. Medical students need to be more guarded than most in what they post online. Careers may be at stake.

New GMC guidance Doctors' use of social media highlights the benefits and hazards of social media use. We advise you to read it.

In general terms, if you post something that you would not be happy to say to someone or put on a poster, you should think twice about posting it. Although the guidance is aimed at doctors its messages are also pertinent to doctors in training.

Taking it lying down

The consequences of falling foul of social media are serious. Staff at a hospital in Swindon, including doctors, were suspended for allegedly taking part in an internet craze known as the 'lying down game' while on duty. They photographed one another lying face down in various locations around the hospital, including on resuscitation trolleys and the air ambulance helipad.

On the other hand, social media has enormous benefits for medical students in terms of training and research, and for being able to readily contact respected colleagues. For example, Clare Gerada, former chair of the RCGP Council and fertility specialist Professor Robert Winston, have active Twitter accounts. As does the MDU

The MDU offers this advice on the professional dos and don'ts of social media.

  • Keep your profile private, be careful who you accept as friends and do not accept requests from patients. Accepting a Facebook request from a patient has led to unwanted amorous advances or, conversely, abuse about the standard of care they (or their loved ones) have received.
  • Be professional in your comments, especially if you mention patients or colleagues.
  • Be cautious about posting anything that might bring the profession into disrepute.
  • Be aware that once information is in the public domain it can be very difficult to remove and it may be distributed further than you intended.

Social media is here to stay and has many valuable uses. As a medical student you have to exercise a little more caution than others to ensure that your use of social media remains a fun addition to your life and not the start of preventable problems.

This page was correct at publication on 26/11/2013. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.

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