Objective The use of social networking software has become ubiquitous in our society. The aim of this study was to explore the attitudes and experiences of healthcare professional students using Facebook at our school, to determine if there is a need for development of policy to assist students in this area.
Design A mixed-methods approach was employed, using semistructured interviews to identify themes which were explored using an online survey. A combination of descriptive statistics and thematic analysis was used for analysis.
Setting Healthcare professions education programmes at a large Canadian university.
Participants Students of medicine, nursing, pharmacy, speech and language pathology, occupational therapy, physical therapy, dentistry, dental hygiene and medical laboratory Science were invited to participate. 14 participants were interviewed, and 682 participants responded to an online survey; the female:male balance was 3 : 1.
Results 14 interviews were analysed in-depth, and 682 students responded to the survey (17% response rate). 93% reported current Facebook use. Themes identified included patterns of use and attitudes to friendship, attitudes to online privacy, breaches of professional behaviour on Facebook and attitudes to guidelines relating to Facebook use. A majority considered posting of the following material unprofessional: use of alcohol/drugs, crime, obscenity/nudity/sexual content, patient/client information, criticism of others. 44% reported seeing such material posted by a colleague, and 27% reported posting such material themselves. A majority of participants agreed that guidelines for Facebook use would be beneficial.
Conclusions Social networking software use, specifically Facebook use, was widespread among healthcare students at our school who responded to our survey. Our results highlight some of the challenges which can accompany the use of this new technology and offer potential insights to help understand the pedagogy and practices of Facebook use in this population, and to help students navigate the dilemmas associated with becoming 21st century healthcare professionals.
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