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Professionalism online – RGU Law and Ethics Group debate

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Monica Hewitt


THE Pharmacy Law and Ethics Group recently held a debate on the 19th of April, 2017. The topic was ‘Should Pharmacists and pharmacy students always remain professional online?’

We started the debate off with a general introduction to the topic by our guest speaker, Mr Johnathan Laird. Johnathan is a pharmacist and an independent prescriber with a special interest in the management of patients with asthma. He is heavily involved in this within his pharmacy and community and he is also a prominent online figure with the website, Pharmacy in Practice.

During the introduction, Johnathan highlighted the many positives of the internet and social media, including the ability to spark a discussion and have the opinion of several experts in the field. He also introduced the topic of anonymous accounts.

Our first student speaker, Ashkan Fathi, (third year) was against the idea of having to remain professional at all times online. During his discussion, Ashkan argued that nowadays everyone is online whether it be your email address, various social media accounts or even your Campus Moodle account!

He also posed the question to the audience “Could you go an entire year without being online?” reinforcing the hold, it has on society. He argued that pharmacists put the patient first, however no one considers what is best for us as pharmacists and pharmacy students.

Ashkan said that our social media accounts should not, and do not define how good we are at our job and asked if we were being asked to change who we are if we want to pursue certain careers? The speech concluded that professionalism is needed, however, not at all times because no one is professional at all times. Ashkan argued that if you post online as a pharmacist you should be judged as that, however an individual’s (private) account should not be scrutinised depending on the line of work they are in.

Our opposing argument was led by Lara Seymour (fourth year) who spoke in favour of professionalism at all times online. Lara highlighted the spike in the use of social media in recent years and the ease of access which allows interaction among individuals.

It was stated that 93% of 16-24 year olds are online [Ofcom, 2015] and this age range contributes largely to the student population. Lara discussed the fact that privacy settings are not always absolute and that patients are able to see your profile on many social media sites.

The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) states in their standards of conduct, ethics and performance (2012) that “you must behave in a way that justifies this trust and maintains the reputation of your profession”. They also have a code of conduct for pharmacy students which reminds them to bear in mind their future role as a pharmacist.

Lara argued that social media is a large part of this and once something is online it is difficult to remove all traces of it. In fact, a report had shown that 1 in 5 adults admitted regretting something they posted online [Ofcom, 2015]. Some pharmacists also use anonymous accounts to share their opinion. This is to protect their identity as it may impact their professional appearance, however Lara argued that people are able to hide behind these accounts and at times write inappropriate comments.

After hearing from both sides we had a group discussion which allowed people to ask any further questions from both sides. This sparked a lot of discussion and one specific topic was alcohol consumption. For example, some students found a photo of a pharmacist holding a glass of wine to be acceptable whereas others saw it as the promotion of alcohol by a healthcare professional and therefore inappropriate. Others argued that when we signed up for this course we agreed to comply with the rules of the profession and instil trust and confidence in our patients by setting an example.

Once the discussion concluded we voted and found there to be a 50:50 tie in favour of, and opposition to professionalism online at all times. The motion was discussed and we collectively decided that ‘Pharmacists and pharmacy students should be conscious of the shadow they cast online and the implications (both positive and negative) on patients, the public and the profession.’

Overall it was a very successful debate and the PLE Group would like to thank Johnathan, Ashkan and Lara for their time and contribution. We hope to host several similar events in the future and we are open to any suggestions from the student body on desirable topics.

Monica Hewitt is Group Leader of the Pharmacy Law and Ethics Group 17/18

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