Medical Students and the Scorched Earth Policy


I was surprised to learn that some senior medical students adopt a scorched earth policy when it comes to their digital footprint.  As residency interviews loom on the horizon, concern over the impact of digital indiscretions become real.  Facebook pages are leveled, blogs dismantled.

I began thinking about this after reading Texas Tech medical student Danielle Jones rationale to not change anything about what people see.  Her insight reflects a young woman who understands the balance between transparency and professional responsibility.  She is someone who has used her digital presence to create a valuable picture of herself.

I was fortunate enough to serve with Danielle on a panel at the Doximity Summit in Napa Valley.  Here are a couple of thoughts on medical students and the scorched earth mindset that came about during and after our panel.  These basic ideas also apply to medical students as well.

Think about your reputation before you hit publish.  Ideally you should be thinking about how that picture or idea will be viewed by those around you, both professionally and personally, before it is published.  Sure, you’ve got to be yourself.  But you don’t have to record all of it.  Like it or not we live and work as part of social communities that view us based on our judgments.  You’re no longer a college kid and pretty soon you’ll be a physician.  People will look to understand you before putting their lives in your hands.

Bits of you can be retrieved.  While the leveling of your digital world should seem like a done deal, understand that pieces of you may remain.  Screen grabs, quotes, images copied from your sites and provocative links back to your phantom properties are possibilities.  Fortunately most residency program directors don’t utilize forensic level social listening when choosing candidates.  In the event of a questionable remnant, however, remember that no one can be faulted for trying to correct for past mistakes.

There’s a difference between harmless transparency and irresponsibility.  In my dialog with residents and medical students, there is a tendency to overcompensate and think that that we have ever created about ourselves is acceptable.  Before setting everything on fire, look for the sensible input of an upper level resident or junior faculty that maintains a responsible presence online.

Moving on is ultimately a sign of responsibility.  If you’ve got digital skeletons in your closet, it may make sense to get rid of them.  But the exercise should serve as a lesson that you’re better off not creating the stuff to begin with rather than trying to deal with it after the fact.

Google is the new CV.  Finally, remember that your footprint is what people will understand about you.  Think about what you can build that will create opportunities for you.  Relationships, amazing ideas, and new ways of seeing the world are some of the benefits you’ll get from global connectivity.  Show people how you think and what you care about and the world will beat a path to your door…or blog.

What else should medical students and residents think about before leveling their profiles?