Social Screening of Medical School Candidates

December 21, 2012

From Postgraduate Medical Journal in November 2012 comes Influence of social networking websites on medical school and residency selection process.  The investigators surveyed 600 U.S. medical school and residency admissions representatives regarding their use of social media profiles in the selection process.

If you can crawl over the paywall, you’ll find a few interesting stats:

  • 9% report the use of social network profiles to evaluate applicants.
  • 4% report having rejected an applicant based on social activity.
  • 19% feel that it’s a violation of privacy to search an applicants social network activity.

Perhaps what the study does best is showcase medicine’s entrenched cultural bias against social communication technology.  Online professionalism is discussed here only in the context of the mischief that students can create rather than as an opportunity or obligation.  Maybe we should recognize that many are doing good with these tools.

Here’s an idea: Rather than choosing students on their ability to master the standardized test, what about putting weight behind a lifestream or living e-portfolio of writing, curated material, recordings and dialog that tell the real story of what drives an applicant?  One application essay to understand an applicant?  How about two years worth of public essays?  Instead of avoiding an applicant’s public presence, the lifestream would represent a core determinant of candidacy for medical school.

Clearly we have a ways to go.

As long as we view publishing and communication technology from the perspective of risk rather than opportunity, the next generation of doctors will always be playing catch up.

Just for fun, check out the survey tool at the end of the publication which asks U.S. participants about their Friendster, Hi5, and Orkut use.

Reference:  Schulman CI, et al, Postgrad Med J 2012;0:1–5. doi:10.1136/postgradmedj-2012-131283


William R. Taylor, M.D. December 21, 2012 at 10:00 am

I’m a retired child/family psychiatrist, fascinated by your insights into the modern media world that’s on the threshold of transforming medicine. I wonder if readers have any thoughts about the use of newer media in a project some of us are undertaking: exploring ways to reduce the high suicide rates of doctors, nurses, psychologists, and others. This is a subject fogged by avoidance and silence, from all levels: student, early-career, senior clinicians and retirees. Here is an excerpt from an email we are considering sending out early in 2013:
Two colleagues and I are interested in personal accounts by physicians (in all branches of medicine), as well as nurses, psychologists, social workers and therapists who have felt burned out and/or suicidal. If you or an acquaintance have overcome those feelings, we would like to make that story available to people in the helping professions who find that they have exhausted their coping abilities. We believe that stories from professionals who have met such challenges could be useful in suggesting ways to cope.
The stories will be published anonymously in an e-book. After publication, we will delete any files in which individuals or institutional affiliations are identified.
We are aware of suicide prevention programs by state licensing boards, medical schools, and professional societies, but we think there may be a place for a more informal, confidential exchange of insights and hope.
Any feedback will be helpful. Thanks for your help.

Lakshman Swamy December 21, 2012 at 11:58 am

Great points, and thanks for bringing this issue up. As a current applicant for IM residency, I’m certainly living this experience right now. As students continue to broaden their interests and find new ways of exploring medicine through social media, writing, etc (I started a radio show that interviews doctors), it becomes increasingly apparent that the traditional ways of evaluating applicants are perhaps losing their utility, at least to a degree. My question is how our system will adapt to the more ‘thorough’ exploration of a candidate’s portfolio. After all, the reason we use standardized tests is the necessity for a small group of very busy people to sort through a huge group of applicants. As relevant as it may be, aren’t we facing a huge increase in complexity, time, and difficulty when viewing applicants more holistically?

DrV December 23, 2012 at 4:29 pm

Yes. I don’t have an answer. It’s manageable, I think. And given a competitive environment where you have many qualified applicants, this is one clear avenue to separate the milk from the cream.

Let me chew on this and see if I can’t come up with something.

Elizabeth Han December 23, 2012 at 1:14 am

“How about two years worth of public essays?”

Well put! Actually when I first got on Quora I thought it would be a really interesting way to screen candidates–getting an idea of what they’re interested in and how they express their expertise.

DrV December 23, 2012 at 4:26 pm

Another interesting angle, Elizabeth. Would work for residents for sure. It’s important to keep in mind that med school applicants don’t have expertise.

So many places to show our stuff….

Bob West December 24, 2012 at 10:54 am

Nice post, Bryan! It certainly won’t be any surprise if I say I agree completely with the message here. The fact that I feel constant push back on this issue from MFI (my favorite institution) aggravates me to no end, like a pompous cat parading in front of a leashed dog.

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