An Open Letter to: Medical Schools and Applicants about Social Media

As I’m applying to medical school this cycle I am constantly faced with questions about my inadequacy, my dream of becoming a doctor, and what I am willing to sacrifice to achieve my dreams. I’ve never had to ask such deep questions about myself. Applying to medical school is very different from applying to undergraduate. No one asks you about why you want to pursue an undergraduate education. Questions about why you want to pursue the major that you have chosen is taken with minimal to mild seriousness. Most colleges expect you to change, to grow, and to discover yourself. Medical school… At times it seems as if they’re probing into the deepest part of me. That’s a good thing, but it’s also a scary thing.

Social media has exploded in the last few years. The invention of Google gives you much less privacy. People can search you, things pop up that you probably didn’t account for, and if you grew up with the internet like me then you probably have a bunch of internet history that you didn’t account for when you were 13 and posting things about your crushes, enemies, private life, etc. Try as you might to erase that, it might not ever truly go away. In some instances that’s okay. If you were 13, you’ve had time to learn and grow, but sometimes the sad thing is that people tend to forget that the 13 year old you is not the same as the young-adult you and that is unfortunate.

I’ve entered the applicant experience with the knowledge that some of the schools may choose to Google me. I’ve thought about it and thought about it some more and yes, sometimes I worry about what they find. I’ve certainly Googled myself to see what kind of material that they may find. I’ve even tried to examine my Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, websites, and blog through their eyes. I’ve warred with myself about deleting my Twitter, but then I never did it. I warred with myself about putting it on private, but then I reasoned with myself that it is my near-biggest social media platform and I didn’t want to lose that. The truth is, I don’t really have a lot to be ashamed about. I make sure that my Facebook (where the bulk of my private life is located) is on the appropriate privacy settings. It’s something that I’ve done since my sophomore year of college. It’s double checked every few months and even then I censor myself when I post on Facebook.

Yet, some of my friends try to convince me that it is not enough. The bulk of my friends who are applying to medical school have either changed the ‘Name’ of their Facebook or inactivated them. They say that you can never be too sure. Thinking about it has kept me up some nights. What does that say about me when I choose not to inactivate or change my name? Does it say that I have nothing to fear? Is it foolish of me? Am I being too cocky about the fact that I have ‘nothing of interest’ on the internet?

Well, in the spirit of full disclosure I’m going to let it be the way it has always been. I’m not going to change too much about the way that I’ve been present on the internet. I already try not to post crazy things where other people may find them and inaccurately judge me for it (a hard lesson that I am glad I learned when I was much younger). Maybe the fact that I have nothing to worry about is because I do not lead a super crazy lifestyle. I’ve never been a party-goer nor am I the type of person to do illegal things. Maybe if I was that type of person I would be more worried, but I’ll like to believe that we are all cautious people and more intelligent than that.

So my plea to the medical schools is this: Please keep in mind that the things that you find on the internet may be ages old. As applicants we have grown up beyond anything petty that you may find we posted when we were in our early teens. Bring it up at an interview, be good mentors and caution us, but don’t let that be your last and most memorable impression about us. Often, we are more than what we are on the internet.

My advice to applicants and other pre-medical students: You should always know what and where you have posted online. Be a good curator of your own presence. It’s not only medical school, but your future employers that will look through the internet to find you. Don’t always rely on the fact that you were ‘young and wild.’ Start now and learn to keep doing it. It might be along time, if ever, before any laws are in place that will define whether or not schools and employers are legally allowed to use internet information to make judgements about you. Whether or not you choose to deactivate your Facebook when it comes time for your own application cycle is up to you. Whether you delete your Twitter, your blog, your YouTube… it is up to you. That’s the only thing that I can say: be a good curator. A very good curator.

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