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Surviving dental school: social media

18 June 2021

In today’s media-driven society, the boundaries between private and professional life are becoming increasingly blurred. In such a fast-moving environment, it’s all too easy to forget that the same standards of professionalism and confidentiality apply no matter what the medium of communication.

Social media may be defined as any online interaction that involves a conversation, participation, sharing content or networking. Examples of social media include, but are not limited to, blogs, forums and social networking sites and apps such as Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube and WhatsApp.

Social media advice for dentists

It is recommended that you:

• Maintain and protect patients’ information by not publishing any information which could identify them on social media without their explicit consent.

• Maintain appropriate boundaries in the relationships you have with patients and other members of the dental team.

• Comply with any internet and social media policy set out by your employer. 
Posting inappropriate comments/photographs or describing a patient’s care on a social media site can damage your reputation and lead to disciplinary action as well as unwanted media attention.

It is advisable not to accept friend requests from current or former patients; similarly entering into discussions with patients in an online public forum is best avoided.  

It is also important to remember that, when interacting with fellow professionals on dental blogs and social networking sites, or when taking part in forum discussions, anonymity is a myth. “You should write everything as if you are signing it with your name.” When posting online, bear in mind who could be reading what you write. Unguarded comments about patients, your lecturers or fellow students could lead to disciplinary action.

Case study

Mark, a fourth year dental student, saw a young female patient in the restorative department. Mark took a history from the patient and realised that she was a first year geography student at the same university. 

Mark saw her for a few more appointments to complete her treatment. They seemed to get on well, so Mark contacted her via social media. 

After a while, the relationship soured, and the patient complained to the dental school about Mark’s conduct in contacting her and starting a relationship as a result of meeting her as a patient, and an investigation followed.

Learning points

• As a student, professional boundaries may seem blurred. Students may feel that, since they are not fully qualified dentists, the limits around personal relationships do not apply. 

• However dentists and dental students are expected to maintain appropriate boundaries in the relationships they have with patients. 

• Think about how you might handle situations like the one above. If you have any concerns, discuss these with your tutors or supervisor.
For more information or guidance around the use of social media or issues you might be facing, call Dental Protection.