By Suzanne M Miller, MD, FACEP
We all knew it was coming. Prospective employers are already doing it. Other admissions committees do it. And now it has arrived in the medical admissions world – medical school and residency admissions committees are considering social networking and media (SN) sites as part of the admissions process. In the study, “Influence of social networking websites on medical school and residency selection process,” Dr. Carl Schulman and colleagues found that while a minority of medical schools and residency programs currently routinely use candidates’ social media presence in the selection process, a majority “felt unprofessional information on an applicants’ SN site could compromise their admissions into medical school and residency.” It is safe to say your social media presence is considered fair game by most medical school and residency admissions committees. If they looked at your SN sites today, what would they find?
Let’s use Twitter as a case study. I signed into my twitter account and spent a few minutes searching the pre-med and medical school-related conversations. Though not surprised, I was dismayed by what I found. (Please note, I have put * into expletives, but the original tweets spelled out these words in full.)
Example Twitter Conversations
“I’m ready for medical school, f*ck all this unnecessary learning”
“Secretly hoping your premed friend will fail when you ask them a question and they were a b*tch to you”
“We study sh*t like we own a hoe, cross bridge *****hh yo yo actin myosin *****hhh”
“sooo folks, the average from the #orgo final was a 54% can you say curve that sh*t?
“If you don’t bring this package to a Pre med study group… Well you’re just an a**hole lol”
“If any of my non-premed friends complain that they’re busy…LOOK AT MY CALENDAR B*TCH”
“Medical school sucks”
“Evey came second in her year for her medical school exams with her 95% …#f*ck #imsuchadisappointingchild #amazing”
“3 Diplomas, In Medical School, studying to become a Doctor!!! I can do what I want, my future is Bright b*tch! HIGHLIGHTER BRIGHT”
“Glasgow medical school rejected me. This is what I have to say to them: “Suck it, b*tch!”
And let’s not forget some of the racier Twitter titles I came across:
Premed Party Guy
Med Student Problems
If you were on a medical school or residency admissions committee, would you advocate for applicants who thought and wrote such things? Most pre-meds have grown up in an environment where sharing personal feelings and details in public forums is the social norm. However, the majority of medical school and residency admissions committee members hail from generations who cherish privacy and often consider such public displays inappropriate. If you are a pre-med or medical student who enjoys using SN sites, how do you cultivate an online presence that will enhance instead of diminish your chances of getting accepted to medical school and residency?
Current American University Assistant Professor of Communications, Mr. Scott Talan, delivered a lecture during the George Washington University “Last Lecture” series offering excellent advice for anyone on social media sites: manage your online brand. A brand is the professional perception you create when others view your social media, and Professor Talan suggests thinking of every SN post as a part of your overall online brand.
Though you may think a Twitter handle is funny and don’t worry about Facebook postings because your settings are “private,” every pre-med and medical student must diligently manage their online presence, always considering how posts contribute to their overall brand and would be perceived by medical school and residency admissions committees. Do your posts add up to a perception that you are intelligent, creative, and compassionate? Or do you appear more arrogant, cocky, and crass? By actively managing your online brand, you can turn SN from a negative to a positive in the eyes of medial school and residency admissions committees:
Facebook is often the first social networking site medical school and residency admissions officers will review. Turn your Facebook settings to the most private ones possible. And be sure to stay on top of your privacy settings, as Facebook changes them often. Then review your personal page focusing on the pictures and content. Pretend you are an admissions committee member reading the page. What impression do you take away? Positive? Negative? Professional? Immature? Make any adjustments necessary to create an overall picture of yourself you would be proud for an admissions committee member to see. Then search for your name and check that no inappropriate pictures or posts exist on other personal or business pages. If they do, ask the person who posted the less than flattering content to take the photo or post down. If they refuse, ask them to untag you.
Start your Twitter check by reviewing your name, handle, and description. Do these three items describe you in a positive light? Do they appear professional and well thought out? If not, create a new name, handle, and description that project the positive qualities you possess. Now move on to your tweets. Scroll through all of your tweets and delete any that contain expletives, mentions of underage drinking or illicit drug use, or other inappropriate content. Unfortunately, you deleting a tweet doesn’t remove it from the Twitter universe all together, but at least it’s a step in the right direction. Moving forward, pretend an admissions committee will review every tweet before you hit the send button.
Do your Instagram photos portray an intelligent and energetic individual with diverse interests or an intoxicated and slovenly person who will likely never be admitted to medical school or residency? Edit your Instagram photos with the goal of providing a series of pictures that portray you positively. Here’s an easy test – would you feel comfortable showing all of the pictures during an admissions interview? If not, delete them.
Did you know YouTube is one of the three most searched sites in the world? Review all videos posted on your channel and any other videos you are tagged in. How would a viewer of these videos perceive you? Do you look like someone who will become an excellent physician? Delete any videos that don’t contribute to your brand and could be seen as unprofessional or inappropriate.
LinkedIn has escaped the frivolousness that plagues much of social networking. And it is unique among SN sites because it has maintained an air of professionalism while making a profit. I suggest you create a professional LinkedIn profile and obtain recommendations. Think of it as putting your resume online for all to see. You can even used LinkedIn as a way to obtain research, community service, and travel abroad opportunities.
Are you a blogger? Blogs are an excellent way to maintain a positive brand, and can even be used as a part of your medical application. But they can also diminish your brand if not kept up-to-date. Did you build a blog in eighth grade as a joke and forget about it? Delete any blogs you do not work on regularly. Do you maintain a current blog with regular content and a loyal following? If so, I suggest continuing your good work and considering including the blog in your medical school and residency application.
Are you on other social media sites? Google +? Reddit? Pinterest? MySpace? If so, apply the same rules we have used for all other sites: what would a medical school admissions committee think of the content? Do you look professional? Do you look like an aspiring physician? If not, edit the content or delete the account.
Social networking is fun and can be an excellent source of obtaining news, maintaining friendships, and even finding a job if you take the time to manage your online brand. But poor use of social media can also sink an otherwise outstanding medical school or residency application. Learning to cultivate a positive social networking presence now as a pre-med or medical student will set life-long habits to continue throughout your medical career. Don’t ruin your hard work in and out of the classroom with poorly thought out posts, tweets, grams, videos, comments, blogs, threads, or pins. Manage your online brand.
Dr. Suzanne M. Miller is an emergency physician who has spent over a decade advising pre-meds and medical students first as a Harvard pre-med tutor and now as CEO of MDadmit Medical Admissions. She is also the author of two best-selling books How to be Pre-Med and The Medical School Admissions Guide. To obtain individual strategic advice on post-baccalaureate, medical school, and residency admissions or to sign up for MDadmit Admissions Bootcamps, contact Dr. Miller at [email protected].
Recruiters troll Facebook for candidates they like. Wall Street Journal August 8, 2011. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000…256558794.html
How your social media profile could make or break your next job opportunity. Forbes. April 23, 2012. http://www.forbes.com/sites/lisaquas…b-opportunity/
Highlights from Kaplan Test Prep’s 2012 Survey of Business School Admissions Officers. http://www.kaptest.com/pdf_files/201…ers-Survey.pdf
Schulman CI, Kuchkarian FM, Withum KF, Boecker FS, Graygo JM. Influence of social networking websites on medical school and residency selection process. Postgrad Med J. 2013 Mar; 89(1049): 126-30. doi: 10.1136/postgradmedj-2012-131283. Epub 2012 Nov 8.
This article was originally published on StudentDoctor.net on June 20, 2013.