Objectives This study sought to evaluate the practices and perceptions of US residency programme directors (PDs) and residency applicants with reference to the use of social media and Internet resources in the resident doctor selection process. Methods A survey was distributed via e-mail (SurveyMonkey ®) to 2592 PDs of programmes in 22 specialties accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education. A separate survey was distributed to all residency candidates applying for postgraduate year 1 (PGY1) positions at the Saint Barnabas Medical Center, Livingston, New Jersey. Results A total of 1200 (46.3%) PDs completed the survey. Overall, 16.3% (n=196) of respondents reported visiting Internet resources to gain more information about applicants, 38.1% (74 of 194) of whom had ranked an applicant lower as a result. American medical graduates (AMGs), US international medical graduates (USIMGs) and non-USIMGs all felt that performance on Step 1 of the US Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) was a critical aspect of a residency application. More AMGs than USIMGs and non-USIMGs believed that PDs made use of social media resources when evaluating applicants and that their online profiles might influence their rankings. Conclusions Residency candidates universally understand the importance of USMLE Step 1 scores in maintaining a competitive application. However, significant differences exist among AMGs, USIMGs and non-USIMGs in their perceptions of the value of other applicant criteria, which may place some applicants at a disadvantage. A small but growing number of PDs currently use Internet resources to learn more about applicants and base their recruitment decisions in part on the information they encounter. At present, applicants are generally unaware of the implications their online activity may have on their selection for residency. Content guideline programmes that raise awareness of the possible impact of social media on the residency recruitment process are needed and should be delivered early in medical education.
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