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Understanding the Role of Social Media in Academic Performance Among Pharmacy Students

December 10, 2020

By Julie Gould 

Shadi Doroudgar, PharmD, APh, BCPS, BCGP, BCPP, is an Associate Professor in the Clinical Sciences department at Touro University California, College of PharmacyShadi Doroudgar, PharmD, APh, BCPS, BCGP, BCPP, associate professor in the Clinical Sciences department at Touro University California, College of Pharmacy, discusses her recent study presented during ASHP Midyear 2020 that examined the correlation between social media use among pharmacy students with their academic performance, and explains how pharmacy faculty members can utilize various forms of social media to improve communication with students.

Based on your research from ASHP Midyear 2020, what led you to conduct your study? What past research has been authored that prompted you to do this?

What made me enthusiastic about this subject is my students and their interest in social media. It's a topic that they're always talking about, and they're using social media almost daily if not throughout the day.

I've noticed quite a bit that when I do lecture, they do have things like Facebook Messenger up, they have other sources of social media that they use day‑to‑day.

I was always curious to see, is this particular social media use somewhat related to their actual academic performance? Does it take away from their academic performance or enhance it? If it does enhance it, is there a way that the academicians, professors, can use this as a tool in teaching and enhancing the work?

At the time that this study was done, I had a student who expressed that she was really interested in this idea as well, so she helped me set up the research and designed the project. It was nice to have a student's inside on this because she was able to tell me exactly what her classmates were doing, what the focuses were, and what some of the questions are that we should ask about.

Can you talk a little bit about the findings and what you found in your study, and were you surprised by any of those findings?

Absolutely. I think the findings were really interesting, and we didn't anticipate some of them.

To give you a little bit of background about this study, we know that social media use has increased in recent years. To date, there aren't a whole lot of studies in pharmacy students. A lot of the studies are done in undergraduates or other students, health professional students.

The objectives of the study were to describe the trends in social media use among our first- and second-year pharmacy students. This was, keep in mind at one institution, Touro University California, College of Pharmacy, and then to determine if there was an association between social media use and academic performance.

It was a cross‑sectional study. It was done between December 2018 and February 2019. When students were asked to participate in this, they were first- and second-year pharmacy students. The way that Touro University is set up is that we have two years in the classroom, didactic, and two years on rotations on our piece.

We wanted to get a snapshot of what the students were thinking of social media use in enhancing their didactic experience, and so we offered them a chance to be entered into a raffle, a $10 raffle for a gift card.

We had 151 participants, so it was about 83.8% response rate to the survey. Most were female and also Asian, which is representative of our demographics in California for pharmacy students, and the mean age was around 26.9.

Some of the findings that we anticipated, and it was correctly done so, was that the most common social media use was Facebook. 98.6% of our students use Facebook as a way of communicating, and then the second most common was Instagram use, 74%, and then Snapchat after that, 60.6.

Keep in mind this was 2018, 2019, so we didn't have some of the new usage of things like TikTok and things like that. It would be interesting to see what those results would be now.

What I found surprising was that they spend about 3.4 hours per day on social media on average. The uses were typically for social use, 96.7%, but quite a few of them, like about 68%, used the social media for academic purposes, and about half used it for professional purposes, networking, for example.

I did a regression to figure out, does the social media use impact their academic performance? Which aspects of it? What actually impacts the academic performance?

This is what was surprising—the part where, when using social media, when they were posting questions to their peers online, that actually had a negative correlation with their academic performance.

This was interesting because we thought that if they're asking more questions of their peers, they would generally be doing better in class, but this could have been students that maybe are struggling in class, maybe they're reaching out to their peers last minute for resources, things like that.

There were some positive predictors of pharmacy school GPA. One of them was higher undergraduate GPA, which was a finding here that's also shown in prior studies as well, that undergraduate GPA and performance impacts academic performance in pharmacy school.

There were no other predictors that showed or correlated with academic performance.

Interestingly, the majority of the students agreed or strongly agreed that online, social networks distract them from their studies, but then also about half of them said that they didn't believe that their academic performance was being distracted or taken away from by social media use, so this was interesting.

I think, in the future, whoever follows up or does the next steps for this project can look at other social media uses as well. That would be cool.

Taking those findings, how can pharmacists and professors of pharmacy take this and put it into practice?

One of the ways that pharmacy faculty members can use this type of study finding is, it doesn't necessarily have to be that they're reaching out to their students via Facebook or any of these social media outlets, but realizing that their students use these quite frequently, and maybe having some mock ways where the students can also communicate with them.

I know we typically think of using social media as being unprofessional, but if the faculty members are comfortable with something more chat‑like function that they can implement, that have the students actually reach out to them instead of reaching out their peers, especially something like office hours with chat function or something like that.

That would make the students feel more comfortable in reaching out. That's one implication.

Also, being aware that if we're lecturing or we're teaching the students, that maybe they may have some social medias up and running. It's not always a bad thing. They're trying to get a better sense of their studies and figuring things out. I think that's a good thing to keep in mind as well, and this study definitely highlights that.

About Shadi Doroudgar

Shadi Doroudgar, PharmD, APh, BCPS, BCGP, BCPP, is an Associate Professor in the Clinical Sciences department at Touro University California, College of Pharmacy. She is also the Residency Research Coordinator at the school at this time, and her research interests are students and their academic performance.

Dr Doroudgar also has an interest in drugs and driving, and public health in my research. Her training has been as a psychiatric pharmacist, and currently she works as a lead clinical pharmacist at Pathways to Wellness, which is a psychiatric clinic in the Bay Area, California.

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