How Faculty Should Help Students Build and Use Their Online Presence

By: Jackie Boyle, PharmD, MS, MBA, BCPS, BCACP; Jesseca Keller, PharmD

How integrated is social media with our professional lives?

The authors’ phone data revealed that we spend a substantial amount of our waking hours on our phones with an average of 4 ½ hours per day of screen time. Out of that time, social media use averaged 1.72 hours per day, with our top social media apps being Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Snapchat.

The role of social media outside of use in teaching methods is still unknown and ill-defined in terms of professional norms. Additionally, students aren’t sure if or where social media fits into professional life. One survey of student social media use cited the most common reason students use social media is to connect with peers and upperclassmen. Of those surveyed, 59 students were unclear if discussing social media is appropriate in a professional setting.1

What are the professional benefits of utilizing social media in today’s pharmacy world?

  • Improving social connectivity. Considering how integrated social media use is with our everyday lives, students and pharmacists can develop professional relationships through their virtual interactions. It is extremely easy to connect with professionals across the world using platforms like LinkedIn.
  • Sharing professional information. Social media allows for real-time information sharing related to the profession of pharmacy, including changes in clinical guidelines, advocacy issues, and sharing accomplishments or achievements.
  • Growing brand influence and representing your organization. This can be tricky. Individuals should consult with their public relations/marketing department before formally representing the organization or company via social media.

One of our students discussed how he leverages social media connections with preceptors, faculty, and other students to grow his professional communication skills. By interacting with pharmacists via social media, students can see what is acceptable to share or post on social media and develop their own professional writing style.

From the faculty perspective, there are legitimate concerns about compromising boundaries of personal and professional relationships with students. While this point may still be up for debate, faculty should consider advising student pharmacists on how to optimize and leverage their virtual influence via social media. In order to be able to advise students in this manner, faculty development sessions could focus on discussions related to professional social media management. By acting as positive role models, as well as helping students perform an ‘audit’ of their online persona, faculty can (and should) help students develop a professional persona online.

How can faculty aid students in developing a beneficial online presence?

CAPE Area 4.4 states that students should “exhibit behaviors and values that are consistent with the trust given to the profession by patients, other healthcare providers, and society.”2 While this domain does not directly reflect social media integration into professional development, one may argue that a student’s online presence should be congruent with their personal and professional personas.

Faculty should establish expectations of e-professionalism and best methods of communication, including:

  1. Teach students appropriate ways to connect with other professionals on social media. Students may be unsure of how to connect with professionals in the social media world. LinkedIn and professional Twitter accounts are generally accepted as appropriate for professional networking.
  2. Discuss with students when it is appropriate to use social media in the workplace. Preceptors and faculty should discuss with students the appropriate times to use cell phones in the classroom or experiential setting. Using a cell phone in the hallway may limit important social interactions with passers-by, while looking at social media for the purposes of sharing news or ideas over lunch may be viewed as socially beneficial.
  3. Model best practices for virtual connectivity with healthcare professionals/patients. At a practice site, preceptors should role model and discuss the importance of building rapport in every environment, including for example, virtual interactions. As students may video-conference with either other professionals or patients, being attentive while on camera, making direct eye contact with the camera and maintaining positive and engaged nonverbal body language is important for building rapport and trust.
  4. Help audit a student’s online presence to create a competitive edge. Employers often use social media to evaluate candidates from both a positive and negative perspective. In one study, however, only half of student respondents felt it was appropriate for a residency director or manager to research a candidate’s social media to inform ranking or hiring decisions.3 Faculty can help students become aware of ways to use social media to increase visibility and leverage algorithms for search engine optimization.

We think it is time for faculty to embrace and encourage the use of social media for developing professional brands. Do you have good examples of how faculty are advising students around this trending issue?


The authors would like to thank Dankesh Joshi, Student Pharmacist, for his contributions to this work.


1. Prudencio J. Pharmacy students’ perspectives of social media usage in education. Hawaii J Health Soc Welf. 2019;78(9):297-301.

2. Medina MS, Plaza CM, Stowe CD, et al.  Center for the Advancement of Pharmacy Education 2013 Educational Outcomes.  Am J Pharm Educ. 2013;77(8):162.

3. Ness, GL, Sheehan AH, Snyder ME. Graduating student pharmacists’ perspectives on e-professionalism and social media: qualitative findings. J Am Pharm Assoc. 2014;54(2):138-43.

Jaclyn Boyle is an Associate Professor of Pharmacy Practice at Northeast Ohio Medical University. Educational scholarship interests include professional development, preparing learners for careers in academia, and evaluating novel teaching and assessment methods. Jaclyn is very active in professional pharmacy organizations. In her free time, Jaclyn enjoys spending time with her family & friends, spinning, and yoga.

Jesseca Keller is a PGY-2 Ambulatory Care Pharmacy resident at Summa Health and a clinical assistant professor of pharmacy practice at Northeast Ohio Medical University. Educational scholarship interests include assessment of student outcomes and interprofessional education. In her free time, Jesseca enjoys traveling, playing trivia and spending time with friends and family.

Pulses is a scholarly blog supported by Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning

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