Bulletin of Dental Education

Drs. Marnie Oakley and Heiko Spallek Take a Closer Look at Social Media in Dental Education

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Dr. Marnie Oakley, Associate Dean,  Clinical Affairs, and Assistant Professor, Department of Restorative Dentistry and Comprehensive Care, University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine

After trying to understand her teenagers’ desire to overshare on social media sites, Dr. Marnie Oakley became interested in taking a closer look at social media as it relates to dentistry. Dr. Oakley was intrigued by the actions of her children, who seemed compelled to chronicle the family's every move through Twitter and Facebook. “Once I learned I personally have been the subject of these postings, I began to wonder how I was represented. It became clear to me that in my own household rules needed to be set to include: (1) No writing about anyone without their permission; (2) No posting pictures of anyone without their permission; (3) Never write something about someone else that you would want to see written about yourself."…the list goes on.”

In talking with her friend and colleague Dr. Heiko Spallek, Dr. Oakley realized that some of the dental students, residents, faculty, and staff may not be any different than her children when it comes to their use of social media. “We noted that a similar need for regulation with regard to the use of social media seemed to have caught the eye of the medical profession (as documented by the American Medical Association in "Professionalism in the Use of Social Media"), but did not seem to penetrate the dental community with the same level of attention.” Drs. Spallek and Oakley realized that their institutions or professions could potentially be cast in a negative light by social media postings.

Dr. Heiko Spallek, Associate Dean, Office of Faculty Development and Information Management, and Associate Professor, Center for Dental Informatics, University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine

Regardless of whether or not the postings have bad intentions, social media has the potential to allow meaningless posts to become newsworthy because it is an open platform. “We realize we cannot prevent unfavorable postings from circulation, but we can be smart about what action we decide to take to educate our students, residents, faculty, and staff regarding our expectations of their behavior, without infringing on their constitutional rights. As we collaborate with colleagues, it is reasonable that we could develop a plan to address curricular considerations and regulations on the subject of social media use.”

For future research, Dr. Oakley is interested in following and collaborating on research that parallels social media in dental education, especially exploring objectively what dental students and residents actually post on social media sites, like Facebook, related to their educational experiences. She looks forward to seeing how other schools respond to this topic and creatively address the issues at hand.

Read the full article Social Media in Dental Education: A Call for Research and Action by Marnie Oakley, D.M.D. and Heiko Spallek, D.M.D., Ph.D., M.S.B.A. in the March issue of the Journal of Dental Education.

Dr. Marnie Oakley serves as the Associate Dean of Clinical Affairs, Assistant Professor, Department of Restorative Dentistry and Comprehensive Care at the University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine. Dr. Spallek is Associate Dean, Office of Faculty Development and Information Management, and Associate Professor, Center for Dental Informatics also at the University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine.  

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