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Can Residents Help Students Face(book) the Music?
The Responsible Use of Online Social Networking: Who Should Mentor Medical Students.  Patel PD et al.  Teaching and Learning in Medicine 2012;24:4,348-354


Reviewed by Rebecca Tenney-Soeiro

What was the purpose of this study?
Studies have shown that students (and occasionally residents) understand the need for professionalism but do not always associate online behavior with their professional lives.  The authors believe students need to be mentored on how to better use online social networking (OSN) and hypothesized that residents would be more credible than faculty as mentors due to similar usage and attitudes toward online communication. 

How was the study done?
120 first-year residents, 16 medical education faculty, and 130 third-year medical students completed a paper and pencil survey at the University of Louisville.  Questions included frequency and type of personal electronic communication and attitudes toward online communication. Respondents were also asked to rank-order their preference on how med students should be mentored.

What were the results?
Students more frequently use OSN sites and other electronic tools than faculty.  Students, residents, and faculty had similar attitudes on 7/9 questions, however faculty more often agreed that med students need guidance to understand how the inappropriate use of OSN sites could harm their careers.  Residents scored higher than faculty on their agreement that they had the knowledge to help medical students understand the importance of responsible online behavior.  The most preferred instructional option was to “be direct and provide a formal list of guidelines and a clear message about what to avoid with online social networking”.

What are the implications of these findings?
Students are not always aware that OSN can be a professional issue, though residents who use OSN in similar ways to students are more mature in this realization.  Constructive and creative ways of educating students about these issues may involve using residents as mentors.  By providing open-ended guidance, rather than lectures and policies that they don’t read, students may better develop their own sense of professionalism.

Editor’s Note:  Many medical schools rely on residents to teach medical students components of both the formal and informal curriculum.  While there are good reasons for residents to serve as mentors for students when it comes to OSN, the authors correctly point out that residents will need to be trained to ensure that they impart a consistent message to the students  (JG).

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