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Admissions staff look up candidates on the internet

Influence of social networking sites in vetting med school applicants will rise

Louise Prime

Friday, 09 November 2012

One in five staff involved in admissions procedures for medical school and trainee doctor programmes admit to looking up candidates on the internet, and one in ten use social networking sites to evaluate candidates. Only just over half of staff thought checking somebody’s online profile was a violation of their privacy, and the practice is likely to increase, warn the authors of research published in Postgraduate Medical Journal.

Six hundred staff involved in admissions procedures for medical school and/or trainee doctor (residency) programmes in the US completed questionnaires about their own and their institution’s practice regarding using the internet and social networking sites to find more information on candidates. Most respondents (85%) were involved in reviewing applications for residency programmes, for trainee doctors; of the remainder, about half were involved in medical school admissions and half in admissions for both.

Only 15% of the medical schools and residency programmes maintained a profile on a social networking site, but half of respondents maintained their own profile on at least one of these sites, most commonly Facebook (97%), and many also on LinkedIn or Twitter.

A tenth (9%) of staff admitted to having evaluated applicants using a social networking site, and a fifth (19%) said they had conducted some sort of online search for information on candidates. Only a tiny proportion (3-4%) had rejected a candidate because of information found in this way.

Although only 15% of institutions said they planned future use of the internet or social networking sites to search for information on applicants, a further 29% said they were neutral on this, which the authors suggest means the practice is likely to increase. In addition, more than a fifth of individuals said admissions programmes should vet applicants in this way, and another 40% said they were neutral on the issue.

Well over half (58%) disagreed, some strongly, that searching for candidates on social networking sites would be a violation of their privacy, and almost as many said that unprofessional online behaviour, judged by online postings, or membership of certain groups, should compromise somebody’s application.

The authors concluded: “Social networking sites will inevitably affect future selection of doctors and residents … Formal guidelines for professional behaviour on social networking sites might help applicants avoid unforeseen bias in the selection process.”

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