Imagine submitting a link to your Facebook profile with your medical school application. Upload your Instagram photos as part of your secondary. Scrutinizing your Twitter feed becomes part of the admissions interview. Silly, right?
It may be of very little surprise that medical school admissions committees have looked to social media websites such as Facebook to investigate applicants. The Internet has become an oasis of information and interaction that has dramatically transformed communication across the globe. Furthermore, the development and increasing efficiency of search engines to produce more accurate and relevant results has given anyone with an Internet connection the ability to become an amateur private investigator. It appears as though health care education in the United States is no different.
Over the last several years, there has been an increasing trend in the use of the Internet by medical school admissions committees to get a better look at the “real person” behind the medical school application. Unfortunately for some, the committees are not finding information and photographs that provide a positive depiction of would-be medical students. Actually, research indicates that nearly 50% of admissions officers have found something online that has a negative impact on the students chances. What does this mean for premedical students? It means that cleaning up your social media profiles may become part of the application process.
Why is it happening?
There are several reasons admissions personnel are using the social media to provide further insight into the lives of applicants. Also, medical school applications have not changed drastically in decades, which provides most premedical students the opportunity to collaborate and possibly “scam the system”.
Imagine sifting through thousands of applications – all with stellar GPAs, well-rounded MCAT scores, and numerous clinical and volunteer hours. The only portion of the application that notably differentiates one from another is the personal statement – 5000 characters explaining “why I want to be a doctor.” In short, medical school applications provide superiority to the applicant, offering them the ability to show only their best characteristics while leaving out the taboo.
Generally speaking, admissions personnel aren’t looking for information that enhances a premed student’s application. Even if they were, no one can deny the appeal of an information resource that provides the following benefits: cost, validity, and convenience.
Social media information is cheap. Most educators and students have access to an Internet connection. Even the eldest persons of the U.S. population are becoming familiar with surfing the web. On the other hand, the alternatives to social media are not as cost efficient. For example, a private investigator charges approximately $40 to $100 per hour, not including mileage. The costs could add up to thousands of dollars – not the most cost-efficient method of investigating someone’s background.
Social media information is trustworthy. Who posts information on their own Facebook profile or Twitter feed? It’s unlikely that you have someone engage in your social media endeavors for you. The fact is that most social network users post information about themselves and update that information frequently. What does that tell admissions committees? They get to see the evidence instead of listening to the rumors.
Social media information is convenient. Search engines such as Google and Bing have made it particularly easy to find information about anyone, especially those with unique names. Furthermore, Internet searches are becoming inherently partial to locations, meaning search queries will produce results that attempt to obey location boundaries. Try doing a quick search for yourself to see what the results are…
Social media provides a thorough representation. The AMCAS and AACOMAS applications require hours for premedical students to complete. However, they only provide enough information to brush the surface. Our society requires that our health care professionals uphold our highest ethical values. Rarely is it easy to validate these attributes from what can be read and not seen. Social media gives the admissions committee the ability to see more of a particular person that what is strategically written in a personal statement.
What Admissions Committees Look For
Students should be aware that 9 out of 10 medical schools have no official guidelines or policies governing the use social networks in the admissions decision. Most of those surveyed deny any indication that policies will ever be developed or enacted. The result is admissions officers rely on their own conscience to determine the accuracy and validity of material found on the Internet.
Photographs. Photos are by far the easiest method of viewing the highlights of someone’s life – especially the lives of college students. Some choose to post photographs of themselves engaged in activities that could be considered unbecoming or unethical. Astonishingly, some even post photos of themselves engaged in activities that are ILLEGAL.
Improper posts. What you write on your social media profile gives just as much insight about your character as your med school application. The public use of profanity and vulgar language may be used by admissions committees as indicators of immaturity or intolerance – neither of which are considered desirable qualities of physicians.
Although unbecoming photographs and improper posts may be the primary focus of these Internet shakedowns, what is at stake? Unfortunately, premedical students will want to consider the nature of all personal information available to the world of social media – including those topics ordinarily unsuitable for conversation, such as religious affiliation, political views, or sexual preference. But, that would be considered discrimination, right? Yes, keep reading…
Are these actions ethical? Legal? Helpful?
Anyone who has taken a course on ethics can tell you that what is legal may not be ethical. Of course, it has never been illegal to use the Internet to conduct research about an individual. Actually, it has become common practice in many organizations to conduct a brief social media audit prior to employment. A survey conducted by Harris Interactive revealed that 45 percent of hiring managers investigate job applicants through the use of social networking websites.
However, when does research transform into prying? How can someone be ethical, yet privy to the same information that could not legally be asked in an interview? The potential issue with the use of social media for the purpose of pre-admissions screening is the extent of privacy to which students are entitled.
It wouldn’t be considered appropriate for an admissions officer to ask about an applicant’s sexual orientation or religious affiliation in an interview. However, this information may be available in the applicant’s social media profile. After all, many medical schools, if not all of them, proudly proclaim an anti-discrimination policy in regards to applicants. In the end, medical schools and their respective admissions personnel should consider the potential impact and borderline privacy issues that could ensue.
Some may assert that we’ve reached an age of social maturity where the aforementioned forms of prejudice have become archaic. If you believe this to be true, please read Gay Discrimination Still Exists in Medical Schools, an article published by the Association of American Medical Colleges.
Note: Within a week of publishing this article, the AAMC removed the following article from its archive: “Gay Discrimination Still Exists in Medical Schools”, https://www.aamc.org/newsroom/reporter/archive/87160/july07_discrimination.html. However, the removed article seemed to highlight the outcomes of the projects that appear on pages 14 and 26 of the linked PDF above. For those that doubt the existence of this article, put the search term “site:aamc.org Gay Discrimination Still Exists in Medical Schools” in Google. You’ll find that it is yet to be de-listed from Google as of November 27, 2013.
[ Read also:Changing Times for LGBT Population Affect Medical Schools and Teaching Hospitals —By Allison Prescott, special to the Reporter. ]
How to Clean Up Your Profile
Your social networking profiles don’t contain anything questionable. Premedical students never take pictures of themselves drinking underage or using profanity that would make them blush in the right company. But for those who may have done some of those acts, here are a few tips to help you clean up your digital face.
Make your social media profile private. Most social networks provide users with the ability to temporarily disable their profile or to make their profile private. Note that this is definitely not as effective as removing questionable material, but it may help.
Remove improper photos and text. Does this require further explanation? Well, you may ask yourself, “what is considered improper?” To answer this, consider that the school’s decision to reject or accept your medical school application will surely change your future. Would you chance leaving anything publicly available that could hinder your success?
Search for yourself. Take the time to search for yourself on Google, Bing, and Yahoo. Take a look and see what results are returned from both web searches and image searches. If you find anything that links to one of your social media profiles, take the time to address it. If you don’t find much by searching for your name, include certain things in your keywords that are in your application – school, city, state, activities, etc.