Lettre du DPCPublié le 29 octobre 2018

NOTE: The views expressed here are those of Dr. Alireza Jalali and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of the CMPA.

Social media is increasingly used in medical education, research, and advocacy. For the medical professional, social media offers opportunities and innovative alternatives for sharing information, and faculties of medicine are leveraging it to enrich trainees’ medical education. While social media can offer these benefits, it is important to establish safeguards to ensure that patients’ personal health information remains private and confidential through responsible professional behaviour.

In a conversation with the Canadian Medical Protective Association (CMPA), educator, researcher, and social media advisor Dr. Alireza (Ali) Jalali described the process he employs in teaching his anatomy students through the use of social media. Dr Ali Jalali is Head of the Division of Clinical Functional Anatomy, Department of Innovation in Medical Education at the University of Ottawa.


Q: In your opinion, how has social media changed the learning environment?

A: I see my students creating groups on Facebook or using Google Documents to study amongst themselves. The digital world we live in actually allows students to work together even if they’re not in the same room, let alone the same city.


Q: How did you get started using social media to teach?

A: In the past, I would give lectures in class and, for example, teach students all the muscles that compose the forearm. When I was giving traditional lectures and sending students home to memorize material, they didn’t have the option of real-time insight.

I decided to start producing YouTube videos and podcasts for students to replace these types of lectures. I keep the content under 20 minutes in duration and students are required to watch them before attending anatomy lab. This approach has enabled me to create a “flipped classroom” where I give a 5- to 10-minute talk at the beginning, then open the floor to questions. I feel it takes education to the next level and facilitates active learning. I’ve also found that I receive fewer questions and have witnessed increased student participation in the classroom.


Q: Having this type of interaction with students, do you see better results, better retention of principles and information?

A: The Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada (AFMC) conducts a survey[1] each year of fourth-year medical students, students I haven’t taught in two years. One of the questions, “Did the anatomy teachings you received prepare you well for the clinic?” consistently receives top scores from the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Ottawa out of all medical schools in Canada.

An important factor is that this style of teaching helps students at risk of failure.[2] These students realize much earlier what knowledge they lack and can then put extra effort in those areas.

  1. As students begin to meet with patients, do you encounter any issues with privacy?
  2. It’s important for residents and other physicians to be aware that even while on social media, they are still held to the highest standards of professionalism. The CMPA Good Practices Guide contains a valuable section on this topic: Social media ̶ sharing responsibly.

Students know not to take photos of patients or use patients’ names, but they may not always be aware of some of the risks to privacy. Both the CMPA website and CMPA Good Practices Guide contain good information on privacy.


Dr. Alireza Jalali is the head of the Division of Clinical and Functional Anatomy, Department of Innovation in Medical Education, University of Ottawa. He has a medical doctorate and a specialist diploma in Sports Medicine from the University of Liège in Belgium. Since coming to the University of Ottawa in 2003, he has developed an active research program in the use of educational innovations: podcasts, YouTube, team-based learning, social media, and 3D printing. Dr. Jalali is social media advisor at the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. He has received numerous awards including the 2010 University of Ottawa Excellence in Education Prize.


Additional reading


The information contained in this publication is for general educational purposes only and is not intended to provide specific professional medical or legal advice, or to constitute a “standard of care” for Canadian healthcare professionals. Your use of CMPA learning resources is subject to the foregoing as well as the complete disclaimer, which can be found at www.cmpa-acpm.ca; enter the site and go to “Terms of use“ at the bottom of the page.

[1] The Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada [Internet]. Ottawa (CA); 2017. AFMC Graduation Questionnaire [cited 2018 June]. Available from: https://afmc.ca/publications/graduation-questionnaire-national-report

[2] Azzi AJ, Ramnanan CJ, Smith J, et al. To quiz or not to quiz: Formative tests help detect students at risk of failing the clinical anatomy course. Anat Sci Educ [Internet]. 2014 Sept 16 [cited 2018 June]; 8(5): 413–420. Available from: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/ase.1488, doi: 10.1002/ase.1488


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