Would you visit a doctor who wore a lab coat labeled "Kevorkian Medical Clinic?" Or dressed as a pimp? Or posted online photos of themselves cross-dressing?
But University of Florida researchers found that sort of material when they studied the Facebook pages of the school's medical students.
Many future doctors posted pages on the popular social networking Web site that they likely wouldn't want their patients to see. And the posts could remain on the Internet forever, despite future efforts to scrub them clean.
"They would not want a permanent record of every moment they've had," said Dr. Lindsey Acheson Thompson, an assistant professor of general pediatrics at UF.
Thompson and other researchers looked up more than 800 of the school's medical students and residents by name on Facebook.com, one of the most popular social-networking sites with about 80 million users worldwide. It allows users to post information and photos about themselves. They can limit access to their pages to friends or leave it open to any user.
The study, published recently in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, found that nearly half the medical students had Facebook pages, with only 37 percent limiting viewership to their friends. More than half of those whose pages were open for review provided lifestyle information, including sexual orientation, dating relationships and political opinions.
Erick W. Black, one of the researchers, said he found pictures of students grabbing their breasts and crotches, posing with a dead raccoon and multiple photos of residents and medical students drinking heavily.
Many students had joined Facebook groups that could be considered sexist, racist or downright nasty, with many using vulgar language. Some of the tamer groups included "Physicians looking for trophy wives in training" and "PIMP" (Party of Important Male Physicians)."
One of Black's favorite groups, which has 5,700 members nationwide, is "I'm a doctor and I hope my patients don't see me on Facebook."
Irving Zamora, a fourth-year medical student planning to specialize in obstetrics and gynecology, said he removed some photos of himself drinking at a party after learning some companies were using the pages to help screen applicants. The Miami resident also limited access to his friends.
"I'm 26 years old and I can drink responsibly," Zamora said. But he didn't want anyone to get the wrong impression that he is a heavy drinker.
Sherita Holmes, a fourth-year student who hopes to become a pediatrician, said she uses the "Dad Test" for her page, posting nothing she wouldn't want her father to see.
"I am probably boring, but I didn't have anything controversial. I'm already pretty conservative," said Holmes, who lives in the Panhandle town of Niceville. "As medical students, we are held to higher standards."