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Dear Director,
As a graduating resident, I’m wondering how much I need to worry about my internet image before I start applying for jobs. Will employers be concerned if they see potentially compromising pictures of me from when I was younger? If so, is there anything I can do to clean up my online reputation?
-Regretting the Keg Stands

 

We all have embarrassing stories that are fun to share with friends but which we’d rather not have come up in our work environment. I for one am happy that most of my crazy experiences took place in the pre-digital age. And who knows? Perhaps someday, enlightened hiring practices will forgive the occasional youthful indiscretion.

But for now, in medicine, if you’re applying for jobs, you’ve got to monitor and clean up your online presence. Not only is this important for your job interviews now, but it will be important when patients (or lawyers)  Google you down the road.

I’ve already learned my lesson - I’ve done physician searches that turned up sexually explicit photos and one that clearly portrayed unethical behavior. This vetting is only going to get more thorough as the HR department takes a greater role in hiring.

Getting Started
Start by Googling yourself to see what’s out there. Search on a public computer, or at least log out of your Google account first, since your prior searches results will skew your results. Most employers will start with Google and then move on to Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. So familiarize yourself with what pops up under your name on each of the major social platforms. What image is it creating? What message is it sending? And it’s not just the chairman who will be getting this message. In my ED, it’s fairly common for a patient or relative to Google their doc’s name after their initial encounter. With today’s smart phones and public access to Wifi in hospitals, you can only expect that trend to continue. 

If you’re like me, you may discover upon Googling yourself that you have a different problem. It turns out that I have a pretty common name. There’s even another Mike Silverman who is an ER doc in a similarly named group who finished residency the same year as me. As a result, when I search for myself, I don’t find anything on me until the lower half of page two on Google! That’s not ideal; I’d want some of the good stuff to be found pretty easily by anyone who is searching for me. And I don’t want to be reliant on my doppelganger’s good behavior.

Medical staff offices of hospitals will likely do the most exhaustive searches but they will also focus on the numerous sites that grade physicians (like Healthgrades and other sites which may include comments from patients), information from the National Practitioner Databank, criminal background checks, and newspaper articles where you’re mentioned. Rest assured: If you’ve been arrested, it will turn up.

Clean Up Time
While some information about your past will need to be brought up with potential employers (malpractice cases, arrests) there are parts of your online image that can simply be managed. You should do what you can to remove images or posts that will embarrass you in the future. If someone has posted an embarrassing photo of you, there are ways to ensure that the photo won’t show up on your profile or wall even if you can’t delete the actual photo. Even if you’re not the most computer savvy person, spend some time on Facebook’s privacy settings and you’ll figure out this process – or check out an up-to-date online guide on Lifehacker or Mashable.

Start by reevaluating your “friends” and consider removing those you don’t know and moving some people – certainly coworkers and people you don’t know well – to the status of limited access. Don’t worry about offending them – they won’t be notified of your actions and probably won’t even notice. Then edit your photos, not just on Facebook but on all online galleries. While some people may get a kick out of having compromising photos of themselves on the internet, in our profession, that will be viewed negatively by your employer and the hospital. Even photos where you simply appear immature (picture a souvenir t-shirt with a raunchy catch phrase) could come back to bite you. On Facebook, it may be as easy as clicking on the picture to untag yourself or removing a post from your profile. I’ve gone to friends and asked them to take down pictures of me as well.  If all else fails, you can contact the owner of the picture, the website, or Facebook directly with a request to remove offending material (but I can’t make you promises on how they’ll respond). If you have a MySpace account but haven’t touched it in years, consider deleting the account all together. Once you have a list of offending search results, consider going to Google and other search engines and asking them to remove the pages from their results.

Increase the Good Stuff
This is a good time to update your LinkedIn profile and make sure that it represents you well and the job that you’re looking for. Be sure to update your interests and skills as well. If you post articles to it, make sure they’re professional and appropriate. While you can hire a company to do a lot of this for you, it’s not so hard to do it yourself and it can save you thousands of dollars.

You can further increase your online profile by creating pages on popular social sites like Google+, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube. Google ranks its own sites higher in the search hierarchy so creating a Google+ site of your own can easily help you control your professional message. Use a professional photo of yourself and then take the time to highlight your skills and interests. On the flip side, remove any connections to interest groups that may turn off an employer – anything overtly political is risky. Be sure to use your real name so that everything you place on it is associated with you. You can even create your own website by registering your name as a domain and then adding links on other social sites to increase its page rank.

Want to go the extra mile? Start a professional blog that you update regularly. Modern software from Wordpress.com or Blogger.com makes this ridiculously simple to set up, and you don’t even have to write that much – updating your blog with links and excerpts from EM articles is easy (and EPmonthly.com always has great material to get you started).

If you do set up a blog, be conscious of HIPAA rules and keep it professional. This is a great way to increase positive search engine results. You can link this blog to your profile on Google+ and other social sites, and start cross-pollinating. Use your real name and one email address across platforms so that you are easy to reach, and there’s no confusion as to your identity. 

What to Disclose
This is a judgment call – and maybe you shouldn’t trust your own judgment on this, so ask a colleague or former mentor their advice. In general, it’s worse if your prospective employer is surprised by something they discover. You’ve got to mention legal issues and disciplinary actions from your board and hospital. If there’s a drug-seeking patient who has been slandering you on physician review sites, it’s probably best to mention that early and tell your side of the case. But if there’s a dubious picture of you that doesn’t appear until page three of your Google search results, maybe you can let that one slide.

Conclusion
Take the time now to clean up your online image and add quality content that casts you in a favorable light. Whether it’s for a job, a patient, or a lawsuit, make sure that private things stay private and that your online persona reflects the professional message you’re trying to deliver. You’ll need to continue to work hard to keep your professional image clean so think twice about what you post or what picture you pose for. And please, no more keg stands.


Michael Silverman, MD, is a partner at  Emergency Medicine Associates and is chairman of emergency medicine at the Virginia Hospital Center.


 

 

 

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