Official Newsjournal of the Illinois Council of Health-System Pharmacists

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2016 Annual Meeting

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President's Message

by Jen Phillips, PharmD, BCPS, ICHP President

I recently had the opportunity to facilitate a discussion with our incoming residents about e-professionalism. This is a topic that has, historically, received little attention in pharmacy school curricula but nevertheless, plays a vital role in establishing reputation for our new practitioners. E-professionalism has been defined as “the attitudes and behaviors (some of which may occur in private settings) reflecting traditional professionalism paradigms that are manifested through digital media.”1 Traditionally, the construct of professionalism includes the characteristics of altruism, respect, honesty, integrity, excellence, and accountability.2 It would follow then, that e-professionalism would involve embodying these characteristics when representing oneself online in a public domain.  

A survey of student Facebook users at three colleges of pharmacy found that 91% were aware of the privacy settings available to them on Facebook and 79% actually used them.3 However, more than 57% of students felt it was unfair for employers to use public information found on Facebook when evaluating candidates. Additionally, roughly a third (36%) of the students surveyed indicated that they had posted something that they would not want a future employer to see.3 The fact that students are aware of and using privacy settings is a great thing. However, the fact that they are opposed to having information found in the public domain used against them suggests that some students may lack a sense of accountability for things posted on social media.

Many have argued that personal life and professional life should be kept separate and judgments about each of these facets of one’s life should be made independently. However, in today’s world, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to separate personal and professional lives. Online networking has made personalities (professional and social) much more visible than ever before. There are several implications to this. On one hand, it can make professional networking more convenient and/or allow for deeper professional connections. In addition, it makes screening easier for employers, who no longer have to ask a colleague for information or recommendations on a particular person; they can now go directly to that person’s online persona and get the information directly. In fact, this is becoming more and more commonplace. In today’s competitive job market, social media profiles are being reviewed more and more frequently by residency directors and employers to get a better picture of a candidate’s overall personality and fit.4,5,6 In addition, some students have been subject to disciplinary actions as a result of unprofessional conduct found on their social media pages.7 The Supreme Court’s decision regarding free speech within an educational setting was made clear in Tinker vs. Des Moines Independent Community School District back in 1969. In this decision, the Court noted that while the constitutionality of free speech is ensured in an educational setting, there are certain inherent limitations. Specifically, if the “conduct by the student, in class or out of it, which for any reason….materially disrupts classwork or involves substantial disorder or invasion of the rights of others is, of course, not immunized by the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech.”8

I think it is our duty and responsibility to ensure that we educate students and residents and every healthcare professional for that matter, on the need to be more accountable and responsible when maintaining their online persona. These days, online media privacy settings make it very easy to customize who sees what aspect of your life. Students and healthcare professionals should take the time to educate themselves on these settings and use them accordingly so that they are always representing their best side to the right audience since, indeed, “best side” could mean very different things to very different people we are connected to.

In addition, it is important to remind students and healthcare professionals that by associating with different entities on social media, you are, in essence, assuming a portion of the responsibility for the reputation of that entity. This should be considered when making public posts. When you affiliate with an institution, you are viewed as a representative of that institution. Negative posts made by an individual not only affect how that individual is viewed by others, but may also affect how that institution is viewed by the outside world.  

Individual responsibility and accountability also needs to be emphasized. If one works for and/or graduates from a prestigious institution, one may choose to list this information on social media to help increase their chances of being recruited for certain jobs, honors, or opportunities. This is a smart way to use personal digital branding to one’s advantage.9 On the other hand, if one chooses to affiliate themselves with an organization or group page that is considered, by some, to be derisive in nature, then one might attract negative attention from friends and prospective employees and this may hurt an individual’s reputation. Here’s the thing: One can’t have it both ways. One can’t expect to reap the benefits of the positive aspects of their personal online “brand” and also expect there to be no negative consequences from the negative aspects of their personal online “brand”.

It behooves all of us to carefully consider how we portray ourselves online in public settings. Of course, this doesn’t mean sacrificing our individual personality or pretending to be something we are not, but we do need to remember that social media has indeed, made all of the world a stage right now and people are watching. Acting in a responsible and accountable manner will help your digital brand work for you, not against you. One of my educational colleagues had a great quote that I think sums it up nicely, so I will leave you with this – “Protesting the fairness of character judgments….does not protect one from these judgments.”1

  1. Cain J, Romanelli F. E-professionalism: a new paradigm for a digital age. Curr Pharm Teach Learn. 2009;66-70.
  2. Chisholm MA, Cobb H, Duke L, McDuffie C, Kennedy WK. Development of an instrument to measure professionalism. Am J Pharm Educ. 2006;70(40: Article 85.
  3. Cain J, Scott DR, Akers P. Pharmacy students’ Facebook activity and opinion regarding accountability and e-professionalism. Am J Pharm Educ. 2009;73(6): Article 104.
  4. Cain J, Scott DR, Smith K. Use of social media by residency program directors for resident selection. Am J Health-Syst Pharm. 2010;67:1635-9.
  5. Oblinger D, Hawkins BL. The myth about putting information online. Educause Rev. 2006;41(5):14-5.
  6. Grasz J. Forty-five percent of employers use social networking sites to research job candidates, CareerBuilder survey finds. (accessed 2016 July).
  7. Westrick SJ. Nursing students’ use of electronic and social media: law, ethics, and e-professionalism. Nurs Educ Perspect. 2016;37(1):16-22.
  8. Mauro T. Freedom of Speech. In: Illustrated Great Decisions of the Supreme Court. 2nd ed. Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2005: 152.
  9. Kleppinger CA, Cain J. Personal digital branding as a professional asset in the digital age. Am J Pharm Educ. 2015;79(6): Article 79.

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