I’ve read a number of recent articles on social media and medical professionalism. The latest post in the New York Times about physicians and Facebook prompted me to think about my own presence online. Dr. Ryan Greysen, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation clinical scholar at Yale School of Medicine, says he is concerned about the professionalism of “the new generation of physicians and students who enter the medical world after years of saturation in social media.” As a member of the new generation, I’m wondering if I should be more worried about my digital footprint standing in the way of my future career?
The recommendations reported in the Times are suitable for more experienced physicians or for those who are new to social media. These recommendations however, fail to take into account the realities of living and growing up in a digital world. Despite the fact that I never use my camera, I find myself tagged in new Facebook pictures every week-- some photos are candid, and others are not. I can untag the ones I don’t like, but whether or not those photos are visible on my profile, they still exist somewhere online. Because I don't post pictures myself, my untagged photos may still be accessible to people who can view my friends’ albums, and as Dr. Danielle Ofori explains, you never know what “a friend’s friend’s friend might do with a photo.” Over the past six years I've accumulated exactly 1,602 tagged photographs, but I have no idea how many photos I have untagged...Is there an app for that?
Despite your best efforts to maintain a professional profile online, you cannot control every aspect of your digital footprint. Therefore, should you fear the possibility that a photo you didn't post could “cast a poor light” on your medical career? As a member of the next generation of physicians, I’m wondering what we can do to protect ourselves against this possibility in the future.
Maybe new physicians should give up the “fun and casual side of social media,” but what difference will it make if no one else makes the same sacrifice? Perhaps it won’t matter as much by the time I’m an intern because my residents and attendings will probably have untagged and unwanted Facebook pictures out there too.