Scott Wright is a fourth year dental student currently studying at the University of Glasgow. His reason behind writing this article was to inform other students and young dentists about the impact social media can have on them both personally and professionally. Additionally Scott hopes to give professionals some advice regarding online activity.
In a world that revolves around social media, it is more important than ever to know exactly how to act regarding your online profiles. Social media and dentistry can be terrific; don't let it turn into your worst nightmare.
Likes, tweets, regrams, friend requests and a complete overhaul of the meaning behind 'following' someone - social media is now a ubiquitous part of our day-to-day lives. Whether you view the online onrush as positive or negative is academic: social media is here to stay and we need to know its implications. As young dentists, there is a swelling pressure from both the public and our governing bodies to maintain a professional persona both at work and in our social lives. A career in dentistry is for life and this feature aims to outline the relevance of social media to dental practice and give some top tips on how not to get caught out.
Top Tip Number 1
Never post comments on social media that you wouldn't show a patient
The rise of online social sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube has been an invaluable development. We can now keep contact with distant friends more easily, share the beauty of the world and watch our favourite moments and music videos again and again. Despite this online regeneration, there is a darker side to social media. Somewhat unfairly, dentists and dental students are held to higher standards than the rest of the public. Whilst it might be deemed acceptable for a layperson to lament about the amount of alcohol they consumed at the weekend, this would prove unprofessional for a dentist. Furthermore, describing in gross detail exactly how much blood you drained from a patient following a surgical extraction is something that would not warrant a 'like' from the GDC. It is important to uphold the professional standards outlined in the General Dental Council's principles of practice. Confidentiality of patients must be retained and the profession must not be brought into disrepute.
Top Tip Number 2
Keep your social and professional profiles private and separate
If you are prudent, you will have already made your profile, photos and posts private. As a dentist, it would be advisable to create a professional social networking profile for use in job applications. This should include curriculum vitae, a photograph, your relevant skills and qualities and former jobs. You don't want to direct a potential employer toward your Facebook profile and allow them to see exactly how much face paint you wore at university. During job applications, you want to seem as professional and reputable as is possible - ensure your online persona reflects you as the best person you can be. Conversely, your personal profiles can be where you express your innermost thoughts and feelings and is often where our lives are documented. As healthcare professionals, it is in our best interests to maintain a healthy boundary between our patients and ourselves. We are entitled to a certain amount of privacy, allowing a patient into our online lives is a sure-fire way to surrender that privacy. If you are worried about patients finding you on social media, you can use a pseudonym or simply ignore their requests from inside your private online fortress. A simple friend request can lead to something much more. We're all aware that engaging in inappropriate relationships with patients is ill-advised. Don't allow yourself to become tempted. If a patient asks you to 'follow them on Twitter' or 'accept their friend request' simply explain that it is against your employer's policy and direct them to your professional profile. Also remember that website policies on privacy settings can change fairly frequently. You should always ensure that your social profile is as private as you would like it to be.
Top Tip Number 3
Think before you snap
If a picture speaks a thousand words, a video may be likened to War and Peace. Dentists and dental students alike should think very carefully before uploading pictures or videos to the Internet. Whether it's a video from a clinical area or a photograph of a more personal, private area, everyone should remember the power of the download and screen shot buttons. If you wouldn't like your uncomfortable moments brought up at your wedding or held against you in court after fifteen years, think twice about clicking upload. The internet has made the world a much smaller place - videos and pictures find their way through countries much more quickly than a letter or phone call ever could. Dentists may well be equipped to deal with oral infections, but coping with becoming viral is a different challenge. Whilst it may be embarrassing being the laughing stock of your group of friends, it is surely more humiliating to be the punchline of a global joke.
Top Tip Number 4
Don't take it personally
Social media has also become a reservoir for patients to vent their concerns and review shops, businesses and experiences. This consumer-led world has crossed with the patient-centred world of dentistry. Whilst many of these reviews are positive and encouraging, some patients are slightly less complimentary. If you find that a complaint has been made about you online, or a negative review has been logged - relax. Of course it is upsetting to have your ability called into question, especially if you believe the claims are unjustified. Of course you will want to reply angrily. Of course you will feel unfairly treated. It is important, however, to maintain some decorum in your handling of this issue. In order to prevent these concerns from coming to the fore, your practice should have a proper complaints procedure in place. If however, you do come across something derogatory about yourself online - do not take it personally. Simply rise above it and strive to not receive such a complaint again. If the claims are completely unjustified, contact the website administrator and request it to be taken down.
In conclusion, navigating social media as a dentist need not be a minefield. If you conduct yourself online in a manner you would be proud of in a clinical setting, you will not face any issues. I hope these tips will be hopeful to you in your career and perhaps help avoid finding yourself on the General Dental Council's radar. This feature was not intended to scare or worry - in contrast its intention was to equip an armamentarium against social media issues as a dentist. Whilst it is important to maintain appropriate conduct for the reputation of the profession, this feature intended to highlight the personal issues surrounding dentistry and social media. Improper conduct may indeed lead to punishment or reprimands from employers and our governing bodies - it is all too easy though to forget that beneath the scrub top is a person with emotions. By all means, please have fun, but just maybe think twice before that final click - if only for your own sake.
Scott (James Forsyth) Wright