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MEDICAL STUDENT COLUMN Social Media: Friend or Foe of Medical Students and the Field of Urology?

By: Daniela Orozco Rendon, BS, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas; Gal Saffati, MD, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas | Posted on: 18 Mar 2024

In recent years, social media has transformed the way people connect, communicate, and share information. This transformation has extended to medical education, and platforms such as X (Twitter), Instagram, YouTube, Reddit, and TikTok have become powerful tools for students to access medical content, engage with peers, and explore various specialties.1 However, social media’s influence on medical students’ perceptions of different specialties is a double-edged sword with the ability to either foster or deter interest in the field.

Social media platforms have become a treasure trove of educational content created by health care professionals, including urologists. Medical students can access high-quality videos, infographics, and articles explaining urological conditions and procedures. The prevalence of educational content online can demystify urology by providing a comprehensive view of the specialty’s scope.2 This is particularly valuable for medical students at institutions that lack a urology residency program or offer minimal exposure to practicing urologists. Given that urology is a competitive field, obtaining early exposure is pivotal to planning for the match.3

Social media can bridge this gap by connecting and providing students with mentorship. Students can find research opportunities and gain insight into urology by engaging in dialogue and seeking guidance from experts online. In fact, recent data have shown that mentorship can make a difference in the success of an applicant in the urology match.4,5 It has even been shown that social media is an important recruitment tool for urology; there was a statistically significant difference in social media use between applicants who went on to match and those who remained unmatched.6,7 One example of social media’s value in urology is the #UroStream101 project, which was initiated in May 2020 to help boost engagement for virtual content created by students and residents during the pandemic. Ultimately, this hashtag helped fill the needs of more than 100 students by pairing medical students with resident mentors who were approachable, experienced, and knowledgeable about the urology match process during a time when medical students were removed from the clinical setting. It was useful for supplying students with information about program selection, match procedures, subinternship advice, and curriculum vitae review.8

Social media can also serve as a way for urologists to campaign for diversity within the field. The 2022 AUA Census reports that 11.6% of urologists are women, 13.8% are Asian, 4.9% are Hispanic, and 2.2% are African American/Black.9 Together, these groups represent less than 25% of the urologic workforce, highlighting that many students do not have access to a urologist with a similar gender or ethnic background. Diverse representation within a field attracts students because they can envision themselves in that specialty.10 Thus, groups such as R. Frank Jones, Urology Unbound, Society of Women in Urology, LatinX in Urology, and Hispanic Urologists Society of North America, all of which aim to improve visibility for those who are underrepresented in the field, use social media to build their networks and promote their programming. Moreover, the #ILookLikeAUrologist hashtag, which launched in August 2015 to promote gender representation in urology, was found to have 1348 unique posts and extensive interactions across multiple countries by 2021.11 As social media coordinator for the Hispanic Urologists Society of North America, I have not only been able to connect with urologists around the country through social media, but I have also been able to promote Hispanic visibility through spotlight campaigns on our platform.

However, not all content on social media is accurate or representative of quotidian clinical practice. Some videos and posts may sensationalize urological procedures or misrepresent the challenges and demands of the specialty, potentially giving students a skewed perspective. The rigor of residency training, difficulty in maintaining work-life balance throughout one’s career, and high rates of burnout can be excluded from posts on social media, painting an incomplete narrative of the field. If the complete narrative is shared, then providers may face backlash for “complaining” or “being lazy”—as has been the case for certain surgical residents who are also social media influencers and share “day-in-the-life” videos of their residency experience. Seeing these comments may make others less likely to share their realities or may cause interested students to believe that they too would be “complaining” or “unfit” for the rigors of the position.

There are also concerns about maintaining professionalism on social media and the possibility of blurring boundaries. Since social media is public, any physician creating content must be careful not to compromise patient confidentiality with their posts—an ethical issue with serious legal repercussions.12 Additionally, if a physician’s platform is both a professional and personal account, they may post content that would be deemed unprofessional in the normal work setting.13 After the COVID pandemic, there was an increase in potential urology applicants using their social media accounts to connect online with providers and learn about residency programs, especially since residency interviews became virtual. This highlights the importance of maintaining professionalism online as inappropriate content can be off-putting for candidates interested in the field.14

Whether consciously or not, social media influences how medical students perceive each specialty as a residency option. While social media increases access to educational content, provides networking opportunities, and normalizes discussing sensitive urological concerns, it also introduces selection bias by highlighting only the glamorous aspects of a career in urology, perpetuating unrealistic expectations for those without a critical lens. As professionals in the field of urology, it is important to keep these caveats in mind while learning to best utilize social media. To do so, it is important to stay informed with the current guidelines about social media professionalism online, whether that is through the AUA, European Association of Urology, British Journal of Urology International, or your own institution. Assume that your actions online are permanent, behave as you would in a real-world professional setting, and always be respectful and kind.12 Think of your professional social media accounts as a potential extension of your application and an avenue to pave opportunities for yourself, but remember that social media is just a fragment of peoples’ lives. Ultimately, social media has been curated for our viewing and should be a place for inspiration, but not comparison.

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