We have had the pleasure to sit down with our NSW Medical Student Essay Prize winners and highly commended entrants, to chat about the essay process and what they have learned along the way. Our 2022 runner up Ho Yun Lee shares his thoughts, and we invite you to read his essay The virtues of being virtual.
How has writing this essay changed your understanding of the role of the Medical Council of NSW?
I was first acquainted with the Medical Council of NSW after an email advertising this very essay competition arrived in my university email inbox. As a first-year medical student who has heard his share of medicolegal scare stories, my first instinct was to hope I don’t have too many personal dealings with the regulatory body in the future. But in all seriousness, as I did more research, I came to sincerely appreciate that there was a state-wide body, led by esteemed medical professionals and community members, that both protects patients and helps medical professionals so that they can deliver safer and better care.
What do you see as some of the challenges in managing a social media profile as a medical student?
Personally, I think the key challenges are twofold: one is the permanence of one’s ‘digital footprint’. The public, existing regulations and the ethical tradition of medicine places high professional standards on its doctors and medical students. We all make mistakes but even a single unsavoury remark online may linger on as a permanent record against one’s moral and professional character. That’s frightening.
Another is the question of how social media can be used well by medical students. Should we feel responsible for those we encounter online who aren’t well either of mind or body? If we create content online and make our status as medical students public, should we be expected consistently uphold the community’s trust in the medical profession? How might professional boundaries apply to medical social media personalities and their audience? Established codes of conduct such as AHPRA’s Good medical practice guidelines are useful but they don’t seem to perfectly fit the bill in online situations.
After having completed your essay research, if you could give advice to your fellow medical students in their approach to social media, what would it be?
After receiving news that I was the runner up for the competition, I had many chats with my friends about social media and medicine. Much to my delight and disappointment, I found that what I saw and believed to be problematic was shared by most friends I talked to. In other words, my essay was not exactly a work of unprecedented originality.
I think it means that we all see what can be improved upon and that is a great place to begin. We are all here because we hope to be good patient-centred doctors in the future and because we’re passionate about this profession. I think that can motivate us to look at how we can be better doctors and better people in a dynamic cultural, social and technological landscape. There has to be many ways that can be achieved but one approach that appealed to me was for us to engage in the liberal arts tradition (Western or otherwise). All those books written by philosophers and thinkers who laboured over how we can be better people has to be useful for something!
What overarching principles do you feel should guide social media engagement as a medical student or practitioner?
I think we’re pretty well acquainted with the pitfalls of recklessly using social media in a private setting (Facebook is nearly twenty years old now after all). But norms and expectations have not been fully fleshed out for doctors and medical students who use social media to produce content and maintain a public profile. We don’t know what the consequences of medical social media content will be either. I personally feel that we should ask whether the content being produced tangibly helps patients and/or whether it helps to improve patient-doctor communication. Otherwise, what’s the point?