Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Social Media: Are med students SoMe-philes or SoMe-phobes?

As with any question about human behavior, I don't think whether students love or hate social media has a definitive answer.  If you talk to students about it, you'll find answers vary from one to the next.  I have talked to many students about this, and I have found the continuum of students thoughts on social media was more varied than I originally anticipated.

The main thing that surprised me at first is that not all med students have active social media accounts.  I had this vision in my head of these students getting through their college years with the prototypical laptop open with multiple chat windows going, Twitter and Facebook windows chock full of 'lol's and 'rofl's, streaming a soccer game from Sweden, video chatting on Skype with a friend at Harvard, and working on a paper on Word researched through a Wikipedia page.  While some of that might be true for some of them.  I've found a healthy percentage (at least 1-2 in 10 in informal talks) do not have any social media accounts including a Facebook account.  This crowd is usually a little sheepish to admit it, but they are a substantial chunk of current medical students.  Also, in a class of about 120, I usually find 2-3 students who have a Twitter account which I thought was a bit lower than I'd expect.  I don't think my initial perceptions are that unique, as in a recent #meded chat on Twitter, this subject came up, and many academic physicians on the chat were surprised by the numbers I just shared with you.  (I haven't yet done a formal survey of med students, but that may not be a bad idea...)

It's easy to assume that the Millenials are the 'digital' generation, so they must all be on social media.  So why are they not there?  I think part of it is that there are genuinely some younger people who still prefer an analogue life.  I don't mean this in a negative sense, but there are people out there (even young people) who are aware of the technologies available, and understand the potential benefits, but don't feel it is worth the time and effort.  Some have even tried it out, and didn't like the experience.

The second reason I hear is that there are a good number who are scared of its potential harm, and feel this risk outweighs the benefit of seeing pictures of their college roommates baby.  You don't have to be in medical school for very long before someone from the front of a lecture hall tells a story of social media gone horribly wrong, and these stories usually end up with suspensions and expulsions of students.

Another thing I've picked up in talking with students is that very few of them realize they can use social media as part of their job as a physician.  They also don't realize its potential positive impact, so few of them are engaged in it.  Many are worried about it.  I've even interacted with a few med students on Twitter who have a nice presence, but were seriously weighing whether to include their blog/Twitter profile on their residency application.

What has your experience been at your medical school?  Do the confines of your school promote social media friendliness or social media angst?

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