Achieving and maintaining e-professionalism
By Jason Wang
The term e-professionalism, or electronic professionalism, means to act and behave in a professional manner on electronic or digital platforms.1 These digital platforms include the use of social media and social networking sites. Social networking and social media sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Instagram, etc., are almost a necessity in the modern student’s life. These sites provide a platform in which the student may not only transmit information, but receive information, as well.
The following article presents the current status on the use of social media by student pharmacists and recommendations for achieving and maintaining e-professionalism.
Maintain high standards
As a student in the health care field, a social electronic platform can serve as a valuable tool on your path to success. Its use offers a convenient way to share information, communicate with colleagues, help stay up-to-date with organizations or companies, and can sometimes act as a digital business card. A survey of 431 third-year PharmD candidates who were enrolled in a Drug Information and Clinical Literature Evaluation course at The University of Tennessee Health Science Center College of Pharmacy between 2011–13 showed that 58% of them used social networking sites to communicate with their classmates.2 A 2012 study of 377 student pharmacists at Queen’s University Belfast found that approximately 77% of them had used social media for some academic purposes.3
Social media may offer many benefits, but if mismanaged, has the potential to hurt your career or professional image. As someone who will become a health professional, you are expected to adhere to the highest standard of conduct in both your personal and professional life.4 A 2011 study of final-year student pharmacists at four institutions—the Purdue University College of Pharmacy, the University of Findlay College of Pharmacy, the Butler University College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, and the Midwestern University Chicago College of Pharmacy—found that 57% of students believed that they are accountable and should be held responsible for any unprofessional activity on their social media profiles.5
Social media instills a false sense of security, where users believe they can post anything due to some sense of anonymity, privacy, or separation of their professional and personal lives, that offers them protection from any punishments or repercussions.6 These social media sites display your information to a poorly defined audience and the complexity of each platform’s privacy settings can lead to errors with the potential to harm your future.6
Professional image accuracy
The 2011 study of the four Midwestern colleges of pharmacy found that 85% of students thought their profiles represented themselves well, but only 51% of them thought it was an accurate representation of themselves as a health professional.5 Because health professionals are held to a higher standard, take a step back and ask yourself:
- Is my profile an accurate representation of myself as a person?
- Is my profile an accurate representation of myself as a future health professional?
- If my current/future patients saw my profile, would they still trust me to care for them and their family?
- Would I want faculty or my future employer to see my profile?
Certain social networking sites contain differences between what users see of their profiles compared with what others see. Check your profile to ensure it displays the information you intend. Also, ask a few of your colleagues/mentors/advisors/etc. to view your social media sites and profiles and see if they would trust you to care for them based on what they see.
Professional image calibration
The 2011 survey of the four colleges of pharmacy also showed that many students had plans to change their privacy settings right before graduating and applying for a job, and if they were considering a residency, before important conferences that they needed to attend.5 The survey also revealed that almost half the students had information on their social media accounts that they would not want faculty, potential employers, or patients to see, and 74% of them had plans to change something on their social media site before applying for a job.5
To be cautious, you should assess and configure your social media profiles as soon as possible. Because pharmacy can be a small world, you never know who your future employer may be and when you may meet them. The following are some examples of when your professional image may be analyzed based on your social media presence:
- Joining a professional organization.
- Attending state or regional conferences/events (e.g., APhA Annual Meeting and ASHP Midyear Clinical Meeting).
- Networking with members of other schools, professional organizations, or with potential future employers.
- Completing Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experiences.
- Applying for a job, internship, scholarship, award, or research opportunity.
Considerations and recommendations
Social media usage has its benefits and disadvantages. Through careful use, you can keep the benefits without worrying about the disadvantages. Below is a list of considerations to help guide your use of social media and help maintain your e-professionalism:
- Adjusting privacy settings: Control who sees what.
- Managing your friends/followers/subscribers/etc.: Control who can use their own platforms to access, post, and comment upon your content. Groups and people you follow may be viewed as a representation of yourself.
- Managing your posts/activities/images/etc.: Gauge what you reveal about yourself.
- Connecting with faculty and patients: Distinguish professional relationships from personal friendships and adjust social media settings accordingly.
Posting medical information: Medical information you present on social media may carry more weight compared with someone not in this field. Make sure it is evidence-based and include disclaimers if needed.
Controlling your online reputation: Strategically publish your positive content and remove negative content.
You are not the only person who can affect you online: Monitor what online contacts post about you and take action.
This article is not intended to deter usage of social media. Nowadays, social media usage is almost a requirement for all students and health professionals.
As stated earlier, health professionals are held to a high standard. Continuously look at and manage your social media usage, and make sure it is of the standards expected of a health professional. See the checklist in Figure 1 to help maintain professionalism on all the social electronic platforms in which you participate.
Keep the use of social media beneficial to you and always maintain e-professionalism.
Jason Wang is a final-year PharmD candidate at the Mercer University College of Pharmacy.
- Kaczmarczyk J, Chuang A, et al. e-Professionalism: a new frontier in medical education. Teaching and Learning in Medicine. 2013;25(2):165-170. doi:10.1080/10401334.2013.770741.
- Hamilton LA, Franks A, Heidel RE, McDonough SLK, Suda KJ. Assessing the value of online learning and social media in pharmacy education. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education. 2016;80(6):97. doi:10.5688/ajpe80697.
- Hall M, Hanna L-A, Huey G. Use and views on social networking sites of pharmacy students in the United Kingdom. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education. 2013;77(1):9. doi:10.5688/ajpe7719.
- Jaclyn Casey. Prescription for compromise: maintaining adequate pharmacist care contraindicates imposition of a general duty to warn. Washington University Journal of Law & Policy. 2005;17(1):287.
- Ness GL, Sheehan AH, Snyder ME, Jordan J, Cunningham JE, Gettig JP. Graduating pharmacy students’ perspectives on e-professionalism and social media. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education. 2013;77(7):146. doi:10.5688/ajpe777146.
- Langenfeld SJ, Batra R. How can social media get us in trouble? Clinics in Colon and Rectal Surgery. 2017;30(4):264-269. doi: 10.1055/s-0037-1604255.