Medical student reflections

Medical student reflections text and name of highly commended entrant Vivien Nguyen

To mark International Women’s Day 2023 #crackingthecode: innovation for a gender equal future, we sat down with medical student and NSW Medical Student Essay Prize highly commended entrant Vivien Nguyen, to talk about the changing face of medicine, technology, and finding a balance as a future doctor. We invite you to read Viven's highly commended essay, Social Media-cine - the online space as a medical student

What do you see as some of the challenges in managing an online and offline presence as a female medical student?

In our current internet age, regardless of your profession, there’s always this risk of leaving behind a less than desirable digital footprint – and healthcare professionals, especially women, have this extra pressure from society to always have this really immaculate and professional profile. I think a lot of the challenges stem from this public pressure that we receive – in medical school students in general are always told to privatise our social media accounts, not to post anything that associates badly with the school, or reflect badly on the medical profession overall. That’s very understandable and it is reasonable to a degree  - but we can sometimes forget that medical students, especially female students and doctors are also people that live a life outside of medicine, we do also have social lives ourselves.

Finding that balance is complex and its obviously easier said than done, but right now most of us still fear being scrutinised or putting our career at risk, and we tend to keep a lower social media profile to begin with anyway. It’s not really surprising given that even students or doctors who are “medfluencers”, who are out there putting educational material on social media - they have also faced backlash or complaints from the public who may disagree with their content. It can come down to public perceptions around stereotypes about what a doctor should look like,  a lot of the challenges revolve around this. I wrote in my essay, “as a first generation Australian born Vietnamese woman from a refugee background, seeing representation and shared experiences is extremely powerful. Not being mistaken for a fellow Asian colleague on a given day is a win. Not being told I am too ‘timid’ on a given day is a win. Not being pushed past against on a given day is a win. When in reality, these shouldn’t need to be ‘wins’ in the first place.” While the culture in medicine has improved, it is ignorant to believe that microaggressions and inherent bias against sex, race and culture have dissipated.

After having entered the Medical Council of NSW student essay prize and completed your own research, if you could give advice to your fellow medical students, and female students in their approach to tech based engagement, what would it be?

Most importantly thinking about what your personal boundaries are, and what you are comfortable with putting out on the internet as well as the the offline space. There are obviously rules applicable to all practitioners, like understanding what the clear “don’ts” are: “Don’t share patient information or anything that can identify a patient”, “don’t make inappropriate or discriminatory comments regarding patients or colleagues”, but also understanding other considerations, like university regulations when it comes to conduct, and understanding your own ethical boundaries and comfort zones.

So if a student or practitioner wants to be a public figure online who shares their daily life, or posts educational content on social media, then keeping in mind to do so responsibly. On the other hand, some students might feel safer, and want to be undetectable online and have no social media accounts, so understanding we can do that too- just knowing the rules we need to comply with, and what you’re comfortable with outside of that would help guide how you approach the online and offline space.

What overarching principles do you feel should guide conduct, both online and offline, as a medical student or practitioner today?

I think firstly it’s important that we recognise that we all have the legal and ethical responsibilities as medical students that will also apply when we become doctors such as maintaining patient confidentially and maintaining doctor patient boundaries. Secondly, also understanding that freedom of speech is not freedom from consequences, so while we’re entitled to engage in debates regarding issues that affect us, remembering to be mindful not to spread or reinforce medical misinformation. I think COVID-19, or the #dresslikeasurgeon hashtag in response to sexism in medicine, are perfect examples of how divisive and topical the online space can be when it comes to issues like that. And finally again, figuring out your own personal comfort zones and ethical boundaries, on top of understanding regulations when it comes to online and offline conduct can help guide us as medical students, women, and as future doctors.


"While the culture in medicine has improved, it is ignorant to believe that microaggressions and inherent bias against sex, race and culture have dissipated."