Journal of General Internal Medicine

, Volume 29, Issue 5, pp 758–764 | Cite as

Opinions of Students from a Brazilian Medical School Regarding Online Professionalism

  • Paulo Novis Rocha
  • Naara Alethéa Azael de Castro
Original Research



Unprofessional online behavior by medical students or physicians may damage individual careers, and the reputation of institutions and the medical profession. What is considered unprofessional online behavior, however, is not clearly defined and may vary in different cultures.


To determine the frequency with which students from a Brazilian Medical School come across ten given examples of unprofessional online behavior by medical students or physicians, and gather the opinions of participants regarding the appropriateness of these behaviors.


A cross-sectional survey of 350 students from the Medical School of Bahia, Brazil. Only those who had a profile in social media were included in the final analyses.


336/350 (96.0 %) medical students kept a profile in social media. Only 13.5 % reported having discussions about online professionalism during ethics classes. They reported witnessing the investigated examples of unprofessional online behavior with varying frequencies, ranging from 13.7 % for “violation of patient’s privacy” to 85.4 % for “photos depicting consumption of alcoholic beverages”. Most participants felt neutral about posting “pictures in bathing suits”, whereas the vast majority rated “violation of patient’s privacy” as totally inappropriate. When presented with a case vignette illustrating violation of patients’ privacy (publication of pictures of hospitalized children or neonates in social media), however, most participants felt neutral about it. Participants considered all investigated examples of unprofessional online behavior more inappropriate if carried out by doctors rather than by students.


Medical students are witnessing a high frequency of unprofessional online behavior by their peers and physicians. Most investigated behaviors were considered inappropriate, especially if carried out by physicians. Participants were not able to recognize the publication of pictures of hospitalized children or neonates in social media as cases of violation of patients’ privacy. Further studies are needed to determine if an academic curriculum that fosters online professionalism will change this scenario.


cultural differences ethics medical education—attitudes and psychosocial medical education—professionalism survey research 


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Copyright information

© Society of General Internal Medicine 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Paulo Novis Rocha
    • 1
    • 2
  • Naara Alethéa Azael de Castro
    • 2
  1. 1.Hospital Universitário Professor Edgard Santos (HUPES)Federal University of BahiaSalvadorBrasil
  2. 2.Department of Medicine and Diagnostic Support, Medical School of BahiaFederal University of BahiaSalvadorBrasil

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