Medical School and Social Media
December 5, 2011
By Owen Farcy, Assistant Director of Pre-Health Programs
As a college student, you know that social media is everywhere. Between Twitter fostering revolutions in the Middle East, the multiple Oscar nominations for the social network, and a new version of Angry Birds for every holiday under the sun, there’s no denying that the online culture has become an integral part of our everyday lives. Chances are good that you yourself linked to this article through either Facebook or Twitter, and it’s not likely to change anytime soon.
Just as with any new trend, there are many dangers hidden amongst the myriad benefits offered by social media. You’ve probably already had an advisor or a fellow pre-med tell you that you absolutely, positively must delete your Facebook account right away – otherwise you run the risk of being denied before you ever even apply to medical school. The truth, however, is more complicated than that; while there are inherent risks, across all fields of study savvy students are learning to harness the power of social networking to actually increase their chances of getting in to the school of their dreams.
One key to turning social media to your advantage is to understand how the schools themselves are utilizing the various platforms to communicate with students. A recent Kaplan survey of medical school admissions officers revealed that roughly a quarter of U.S. medical schools are currently using Facebook to recruit students; 14% are using YouTube, and less than 10% are using Twitter. While these numbers are low relative to other graduate programs in business and law, they represent a significant increase since last year, a trend that is expected to continue for the foreseeable future(nearly 40% of respondents reported that their schools were considering developing policies regarding social networking sites use in the near future). Meanwhile, 11% of respondents admitted to having visited a student’s social networking website to help them evaluate an applicant.
The moral of this story? Communication on the internet is a two-way street, and smart medical school applicants need to be aware of that. While the internet has historically been a haven of anonymity, today the tides are turning faster than you can say “Google me.” With that in mind, here are three final tips to help you avoid the potential pitfalls and capitalize on the opportunities allowed by the internet:
·Get the information you need: Why did the internet become so popular in the first place? Because it’s a quick, easy way to get information about anything you want. Social media simply accelerates that idea, allowing information to spread at a rate that’s, well, viral. As you wade your way through the process of applying to medical school, you’re going to need to gather all kinds of information – from target MCAT scores, to class sizes, to potential interview topics. Keeping an ear and an eye on the institutions that you’re interested in will help you present yourself as a knowledgeable, informed applicant.
·Put the right information out there: Having the dean of your dream school find you on Facebook isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as long as you’re careful about what he or she sees. Remember that as a future physician your future patients will also be online, and an important quality for any doctor is professionalism. Photos of your volunteer medical relief trip to Haiti? Go for it! Photos of your spring break in Cancun? Probably not. As a strong med school applicant, you’ve done plenty to be proud of, so feel free to show it off on the chance that someone takes a look.
·Remember the “network” in the social network: As a medical professional, one of your most valuable resources will be your connections to your colleagues. Start building those connections now by getting to know others with similar interests and goals, and learning from each other. At the very least, reach out to current med students at the schools to which you’re applying, and get an insider’s take on the institution; the person you’re discussing application strategies with today on StudentDoctor.net could be the same person who’s referring you patients in 10 years.
Of course, this is by no means meant to be a comprehensive guide to using social media in your future – it would be impossible for such a thing to exist given the rapidly changing nature of the medium. I do hope, however, that these tips will help you make the smart choices on your path towards earning that coveted white coat.