Social media and medical professionalism: rethinking the debate and the way forward



Fenwick T (2014) Social media and medical professionalism: rethinking the debate and the way forward. Academic Medicine, 89 (10), pp. 1331-1334.

This Perspective addresses the growing literature about online medical professionalism. Whereas some studies point to the positive potential of social media to enhance and extend medical practice, the dominant emphasis is on the risks and abuses of social media. Overall evidence regarding online medical professionalism is (as with any new area of practice) limited; however, simply accumulating more evidence, without critically checking the assumptions that frame the debate, risks reinforcing negativity toward social media. In this Perspective, the author argues that the medical community should step back and reconsider its assumptions regarding both professionalism and the digital world of social media. Toward this aim, she outlines three areas for critical rethinking by educators and students, administrators, professional associations, and researchers. First she raises some cautions regarding the current literature on using social media in medical practice, which sometimes leaps too quickly from description to prescription. Second, she discusses professionalism. Current debates about the changing nature and contexts of professionalism generally might be helpful in reconsidering notions of online medical professionalism specifically. Third, the author argues that the virtual world itself and its built-in codes deserve more critical scrutiny. She briefly summarizes new research from digital studies both to situate the wider trends more critically and to appreciate the evolving implications for medical practice. Next, the author revisits the potential benefits of social media, including their possibilities to signal new forms of professionalism. Finally, the Perspective ends with specific suggestions for further research that may help move the debate forward.

Academic Medicine: Volume 89, Issue 10

Publication date31/10/2014
PublisherAssociation of American Medical Colleges

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Professor Tara Fenwick
Professor Tara Fenwick

Emeritus Professor, Education