Medical Science Educator

, Volume 28, Issue 2, pp 389–399 | Cite as

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
Original Research


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.


Professional identity Professionalism Social media Medical education Quantitative research 



At the time of the study, the Texas Medical Association (TMA) Consortium of Medical Education Research in Texas (Co-MERiT) Project Team Members included the following: James M. Wagner, MD, CHAIR, and Angela Mihalic, MD, The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas; Stephen B. Greenberg, MD, FORMER CHAIR, Cayla Teal, PhD, Mary L. Brandt, MD, Baylor College of Medicine; Ruth L. Bush, MD, MPH, Lori Graham, PhD, and Courtney West, PhD, Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine; Simon C. Williams, PhD, Robert Casanova, MD, and Vaughan Lee, PhD, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center at Lubbock, School of Medicine; Kathryn Horn, MD, Tania Arana, PhD, David Osborne, PhD, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso, Paul L. Foster School of Medicine; Frank Papa, DO, PhD, and Roy Martin, DMin, University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth, Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine; Gary Rosenfeld, PhD, Peggy Hsieh, PhD, Allison R. Ownby, PhD, and Jeffrey P. Spike, PhD, The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston Medical School; Florence Eddins-Folensbee, MD, Dana M. McDowelle, PhD, and Debra Lee Stark, DrPH, The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio; Era Buck, PhD, The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. We also wish to thank William B. Swann, Jr. at The University of Texas at Austin for consultation on the project and Yuanyuan Zhou at Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine for her contributions to data analysis and interpretation. The authors and the Consortium of Medical Education Research in Texas (Co-MERiT) team members would like to thank the Texas Medical Association (TMA) for their support for the Co-MERiT meetings.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

Ethical approval was granted by each institution’s Institutional Review Board. All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© International Association of Medical Science Educators 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Courtney A. West
    • 1
  • James M. Wagner
    • 2
  • Stephen B. Greenberg
    • 3
  • Era Buck
    • 4
  • Peggy Hsieh
    • 5
  • Kathryn Horn
    • 6
  • Roy Martin
    • 7
  • Debra L. Stark
    • 8
  • Simon C. Williams
    • 9
  • Kenneth Pietz
    • 10
  • Lori Graham
    • 11
  • Cayla R. Teal
    • 12
  1. 1.Sam Houston State UniversityHuntsvilleUSA
  2. 2.Department of Internal MedicineThe University of Texas Southwestern Medical CenterDallasUSA
  3. 3.Department of Medicine, Baylor College of Medicine, and Chief, Medicine ServiceBen Taub HospitalHoustonUSA
  4. 4.Office of Educational DevelopmentThe University of Texas Medical BranchGalvestonUSA
  5. 5.Department of Internal MedicineMcGovern Medical School at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth)HoustonUSA
  6. 6.Paul L. Foster School of MedicineTexas Tech University Health Sciences Center El PasoEl PasoUSA
  7. 7.Department of Medical Education, Texas College of Osteopathic MedicineUniversity of North Texas Health Science CenterFort WorthUSA
  8. 8.University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of MedicineHarlingenUSA
  9. 9.Department of Medical Education, School of MedicineTexas Tech University Health Sciences CenterLubbockUSA
  10. 10.Department of Medicine, Baylor College of MedicineHoustonUSA
  11. 11.School of Public HealthTexas A&M University Health Science CenterBryanUSA
  12. 12.College of MedicineTexas A&M University Health Science CenterRound RockUSA

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