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Applying for medical school? Do you know what your digital footprint looks like?

April 19, 2013

This week Dr. Rajiv Singal, longtime Head of Urology and currently Lead of Surgical Robotics at Toronto East General Hospital, takes the #hcsmca moderator’s seat. Enter your name into an online search engine – do you know what the search will return? If you intend to apply for medical school, Rajiv explains why you should know the answer to that question.

By Rajiv Singal (@DrRKSingal)

Image of Dr Rajiv SingalThere has been much debate about how physicians should adapt to the digital world. The obvious benefits of online information exchange and networking have to be considered in the context of maintaining the private and very intimate nature of the patient-physician relationship. In my view, physicians have always been public figures. We care for the public and conduct our business in public institutions. I am always aware that every new patient sizes me up at our first encounter. It starts even before their consult. They observe how I interact with others in the waiting room and likely make a preliminary judgment about my character. That first impression matters in the moments before I actually introduce myself.

While we all strive for that elusive work-life balance, it is increasingly difficult to separate our personal and public personas. Anyone can walk into my office, listen to me at a hospital fundraiser or potentially hear at a coffee shop from another person whether I treated someone well or not. As we adopt social media, the signatures of our conduct become magnified.

Getting into medical school has always been very competitive. According to a blog post Medical School Admissions: Striving for fairness despite “ill-designed” tools by Anthony Sanfilippo, the Associate Dean of Undergraduate Medical Education at Queen’s University Medical School, they received 3818 applicants for 100 spots this year. How does one choose? With so many bright, young people trying to enter medicine, it is difficult to decide who is worthy. It’s probable that out of every ten people with a 3.9+ GPA and widely diverse interests and only one will be lucky, leaving 9 disappointed and dreams shattered. Dr Sanfilippo’s account of the fictional Jessica and Matt illustrates this well. Yes, we train great physicians, but which superstars are we unknowingly excluding?

With this in mind there is a sense that maybe other criteria need to be considered in evaluating medical school applicants. Again Dr Sanfilippo offers some thoughts worth reading in his blog post Medical School Admissions: Unintended Consequences.

As people lead lives that increasingly include online communications and networking some have started to ask whether we should be looking at the digital signature or footprint medical school applicants. Will this shed light on strengths and noble endeavors that may not be apparent on ‘paper’? Perhaps expose character traits that may best be left outside of the medical profession?

As Seen on Chart ReviewI am not sure where the answer lies but I am certain that physicians occupy an important place in the public trust and how we conduct ourselves at all times on- and off-line must be worthy of the highest standards of the profession.

For the evening #hcsmca chat on April 24 (9pm ET), I recommend reading this blog post by Bryan Vartabedian, MD Assessing Med School Applicants’ Digital Footprints. In it @Doctor_V sets the stage for our discussion.

I leave you with these questions to consider:

  • T1: Who is currently using an assessment of digital footprints to assess medical school applicants?
  • T2: How can digital footprint assessment be developed to optimize this medical school selection process in a positive and meaningful way.
  • T3: Can this be extended to post graduate medical education programs?

Read the April 24 Chat Summary and Transcript.

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