Public versus private life
More than ever before, all of us in society are accountable for what we say, write and photograph.
Social media has not only arrived in our lives but appears to have taken a driving seat in our destiny.
As professionals – whether medical students or consultants – we are accountable to ourselves, family, friends, patients, peers and colleagues. Accountability in medicine is essentially about ethical practice. My recollection of an introduction to medical ethics was being taught about ‘respect’ by a crusty academic in a dusty lecture theatre. At the risk of carbon dating myself, there was no mention of the internet, let alone Facebook.
So what has changed in the past 25 years? Social media has arrived and our tweens and teens have taken the opportunity to educate adults, and in particular their parents, in everything from PowerPoint presentations to the nuances of editing their profile on Facebook.
Within medical schools, the subject of medical ethics has been given a greater emphasis and yet medical students still seem less than overwhelmed by the importance of the content. This is hardly surprising given the infallibility-of-youth mindset that medical students, like other ‘20-somethings’, find themselves in.
Still, one cost of the fact that humanity evolves less rapidly than technology is the risk to privacy posed by technology. Privacy in all facets of life is compromised by mobile phones as cameras. Banter among friends in conversations is now recorded for posterity on emails, blogs and social media ‘walls’. Private opinions are potentially public property. More than ever before, all of us in society are accountable for what we say, write and photograph. This is a salutary point that we should emphasise as parents as much as doctors to our patients of all ages.
Mansfield and colleagues have recently written in the Medical Journal of Australia, highlighting an ethical code for medical students and doctors so as to “uphold the principles of medical professionalism”. While their opinion piece may seem a little too politically correct, their overall point is valid. Medical ethics in relation to the way a doctor represents themselves to their patients, colleagues and broader society centres upon respect for others as well as themselves. This is unchanged. It is the widespread availability of social media and its ability to entwine personal and private lives that is at issue.
People should be held accountable for what they do and say. Yet, the availability of an indefinite and widely accessible repository of all one’s finest and worst moments has implications for one’s social and professional boundaries now and into the future. This is only beginning to dawn upon society and will no doubt have many repercussions in the future.
For a medical professional in the middle of his professional career to suggest that it would be simplest to avoid social media sites merely shows my age! Social media sites, my children informed me, are harmless, fun and essential for everyone’s existence “in the modern era”. To the eldest one, a medical student, I suggest respectfully that he choose his moments to “let his hair down” and be responsible in his actions. Oh, and I also added that he should “tweet carefully”.
Reference: Mansfield SJ et al. Social Media and the Medical Profession; MJA 2011; rapid online publication 1 June 2011
Tags: , Child health