Social Media Use by Medical Students: A Review




Lu, Vinh
Browne, Theodora
Patel, Vishal
Mire, Emily


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Purpose: Online social media platforms have become ubiquitous communication tools that allow for the nearly instantaneous distribution of information to a massive, broad audience. Within the general population of US millennials (individuals born between 1981-2000), 89.8% accessed social networking services in 2018. Notably, the proportion of medical students who accessed social media has been reported to be above 93%, even as early as 2011. This study aimed to determine whether potential risks or benefits have been identified within the literature regarding the use of social media by medical students. Methods: A PubMed search was conducted using the following search terms: “medical students,” “social media,” and “social networking.” One hundred and sixty-nine full-text articles in English were initially identified for further review. The articles were then grouped into three categories: professionalism, education, or mental health. Articles were excluded if the topic did not address one of the three aforementioned categories. Results: Out of the 169 originally identified articles, 106 articles were included for further review. The oldest study identified was from 2007 and the majority of examined works were published in 2015 or later. Articles pertaining to the described categories were then quantified as follows to show the proportional distribution of research dedicated to each domain: professionalism (n=46, 43.4%), education (n=48, 45.3%), and mental health (n=12,11.3%). Discussion: The lack of research regarding this subject reflects the need for further study to better learn how current online engagement might impact medical students and their lives as future medical professionals. In addition, upward trends of increasing use of social media among this demographic are predicted to continue in future years. As the usage of social of media has increased significantly since its inception, so too have the number of articles pertaining to professionalism and education. However, the growth of studies examining potential implications of social media on students’ mental health has been relatively stunted. This study was limited by the fact that articles were excluded from the review if the full-text version could not be accessed through the UNTHSC library, thus a broadened review is warranted. Future study should address whether this discrepancy is significant and therefore a potentially neglected target for research.