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J Surg Educ. 2010 Nov-Dec;67(6):381-6. doi: 10.1016/j.jsurg.2010.07.006. Epub 2010 Nov 5.

Guidelines for maintaining a professional compass in the era of social networking.

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Department of Surgery, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, Tennessee 37232-2730, USA.



The use of social networking (SN) sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, has skyrocketed during the past 5 years, with more than 400 million current users. What was once isolated to high schools or college campuses has become increasingly ubiquitous in everyday life and across a multitude of industries. Medical centers and residency programs are not immune to this invasion. These sites present opportunities for the rapid dissemination of information from status updates, to tweets, to medical support groups, and even clinical communication between patients and providers. Although powerful, this technology also opens the door for misuse and policies for use will be necessary. We strive to begin a discourse in the surgical community in regard to maintaining professionalism while using SN sites.


The use of SN sites among surgical house staff and faculty has not been addressed previously. To that end, we sought to ascertain the use of the SN site Facebook at our residency program. Of 88 residents and 127 faculty, 56 (64%) and 28 (22%), respectively, have pages on Facebook. Of these, 50% are publicly accessible. Thirty-one percent of the publicly accessible pages had work-related comments posted, and of these comments, 14% referenced specific patient situations or were related to patient care.


Given the widespread use of SN websites in our surgical community and in society as a whole, every effort should be made to guard against professional truancy. We offer a set of guidelines consistent with the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education and the American College of Surgeons professionalism mandates in regard to usage of these websites. By acknowledging this need and by following these guidelines, surgeons will continue to define and uphold ethical boundaries and thus demonstrate a commitment to patient privacy and the highest levels of professionalism.

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