Medical Students and the Scorched Earth Policy

April 2, 2012

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?


Aaron Stupple April 2, 2012 at 8:39 am

Great material. My 2 cents:

Decide on your commitment to your online persona. If you are deeply committed, then showcase it on your interview. If you are not, then your online material should already be private.

I can’t think of a good reason to create publicly available content that you are not confident enough to enthusiastically share with a future employer.

There’s no better time than the present to decide how committed you are.

-Spoken as a year four med student who just completed residency interviews with Facebook, Twitter, and blog statuses unchanged, but admittedly with trepidation.

Mr Epidemiology April 2, 2012 at 9:28 am

I don’t blame students for the scorched earth approach. Even if you think the picture is reasonable/innocent, all it requires is for the interviewing committee to deem it unacceptable to hurt your chances of getting the position that you’re interested in (as this is a problem that extends well beyond the walls of medical school). The stakes are very high, and leaving up content is not worth the potential impact it could have on your career prospects.

The flipside is also true though. You can deliberately “seed” the internet for information about you. Creating a LinkedIn, Twitter account or blog that portrays a good image of you to potential employers is a strategy that can work in your favour.

Ryan Stephens April 2, 2012 at 9:41 am

As a young professional in the health care world myself, I’m inclined to agree with Danielle’s perspective regarding an online presence. I can say, without question, my blog (and online presence) have led to many more opportunities than it’s cost me.

It’s enabled me to obtain internships, full-time gigs, and consulting/speaking opportunities. Beyond that, and more importantly, it’s helped me connect with professionals who challenge and inspire me everyday to continue growing, learning and connecting. Often times, these people become my real-life friends as well.

Sure my resume might tell you what I’ve done and where I’ve been, but my blog will tell you what I believe, how I think, and where I’m headed.

I’ll also add that I think some young professionals hear a few horror stories and are quick to push the panic button. Most professionals understand the difference between an image drinking a beer and someone doing a keg stand. And if they don’t? Maybe that’s not an organization you want to work for anyway.

Jason Boies April 2, 2012 at 12:57 pm

Good lessons here and applicable to all, not exclusive to the healthcare industry.

I’m curious how much focus we are putting on social networks in high school classrooms now. That is to say, are teachers preparing students to enter the real world by offering them tips and advice on their social media profiles?
I would think that should become part of the curriculum now.

Good post as always, Doctor V. :)

Jason Boies
Radian6 Community

Mark Browne April 3, 2012 at 2:15 pm

All physicians should take heed on this topic, not just medical students. Just spoke with a physician today who can’t believe how her iPhone has changed the way she works and practices, including Linked In, twitter, etc.. All of us in medicine need to begin thinking of our CV’s as fluid and continuously updated pools of information rather than a stack of paper we update once every couple of years.


Ryan Madanick April 5, 2012 at 4:59 pm

Part of the issue is that many young adults from the current generation, those growing up with social media, never realized the impact that certain posts on social media might have on their future. This could stem from the issue that their parents (and/or others who may have been the voice of responsibility in their lives in their formative years) usually didn’t understand the medium either. Therefore, they weren’t given appropriate guidance as to how to use social media. We do have a chance to change this going forward, as educators, parents, mentors, etc.

As I like to say, “Your job interview begins now.” Anyone on social media needs to think this way.

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