Examining Medical Students’ Social Media Beliefs and Behaviors and Their Relationship to Professional Identity

Courtney A. West, James M. Wagner, Stephen B. Greenberg, Era Buck, Peggy Hsieh, Kathryn Horn, Roy Martin, Debra L. Stark, Simon C. Williams, Kenneth Pietz, Lori Graham, Cayla R. Teal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Few studies have assessed professional identity among medical learners and links between identity and unprofessional behaviors. This study applied identity fusion theory and professional identity formation to examine the relationship between medical students’ social media beliefs and behaviors and professional identity measured by a physician professional identity fusion pictorial item. The hypothesis was students who were more strongly fused with physicians as a group would report (a) stronger beliefs that students should be held accountable for their social media behavior and (b) more concerns about their own social networking behavior. Participants included 3473 first-, second-, third-, and fourth-year medical students at eight schools in Texas. Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) and regression analyses were conducted to explore if professional identity formation, measured by the physician professional identify (PPI) item, was related to social media beliefs about accountability and concerns about social media behavior. The degree of physician professional identity fusion was unrelated to concerns about social media behavior (p = 0.102). Analyses revealed students’ degree of physician professional identity fusion was positively associated with beliefs about accountability for social media behaviors (b = 0.085, p = 0.004). This suggests as students’ physician identity emerges, they are more likely to expect themselves and peers to represent the larger community of physicians professionally, at least in the realm of social media. While this study focused on beliefs and behaviors related to social media, the results are encouraging for professional identity formation in general.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)389-399
Number of pages11
JournalMedical Science Educator
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2018


  • Medical education
  • Professional identity
  • Professionalism
  • Quantitative research
  • Social media

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Education


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