The emergence of social networks sites as a new form of digital media and communication channel has brought many challenges for the health system [1,2,3]. The widespread use of social media affects the context in which professional behaviours are exhibited and how they are interpreted .
Professionalism is broadly defined as behaviour in accordance with professional and ethical standards of the profession and can be evaluated through ten components: professional competence, honesty in doctor-patient relationship, health professional-patient privacy, maintaining a proper relationship with the patient, improving the quality of health care, improving the availability of health care, fair distribution of resources, evidence-based knowledge, maintaining patient confidence (prevention of conflict of interest) and professional responsibility .
E-professionalism is a derived form of professionalism and can be defined as implementation of traditional principles of professionalism during online activities. Furthermore, it can be defined as a commitment to carry out professional tasks while adhering to ethical principles and care for the patient’s well-being during online social activities .
The effort to understand and improve e-professionalism of health professionals on social media sites is visible in the commitment that large number of medical and educational institutions make through various guidelines and advices for online behaviour. Some form of guidelines for e-professionalism are published or available online by a large number of institutions: The American Medical Association , The Australian and New Zealand Medical Association , The British Medical Association  and many others.
First research related to e-professionalism appeared in 2008; in a synthetic review published in 2015 search strategy combine terms “professionalism” with “internet” or “social media” in any field in PubMed, CINAHL and Google Scholar, 941 papers were found, published between 2010 and 2014, of which about thirty that tackle professionalism of healthcare workers on the Internet .
The number of users of social media sites grows rapidly so interest in understanding e-professionalism has to follow. Facebook alone currently has over 2.7 billion users active on a monthly basis . If we consider that according to some research about 87% of doctors of medicine have a private account on social networks, and 67% maintain a professional account , it is evident that e-professionalism has become an important issue.
In most studies that have health professionals in the sample, the sample is composed of a one specific profession, for example urologists , paediatricians , surgeons , psychotherapists  or nurses . A common research question in those studies is how many respondents use social networks and why they use them. Some papers focus on attitude towards social networks, mainly as a review of the benefits and dangers of using social networks for professional or educational purposes.
One study by Chisholm-Burns et al. designed and validated scale for measuring attitudes towards social media professionalism on pharmacy students . After validation, instrument had 22 items that formed five factors named: honesty and integrity, respect for others, accountability, duty, and excellence. Cronbach’s alpha measuring reliability of instrument was .72. Scale covered a broad range of topics: classroom behaviours, conduct such as posting about unprofessional behaviour to social media sites, and the authority of the college/university in monitoring and penalizing students’ social media behaviours.
Even though many studies have investigated aspects of e-professionalism of medical or dental students [18,19,20,21,22], and some investigated attitude towards social media professionalism on similar but different populations [17, 23], so far none of the validated instruments has been made for assessing attitude towards e-professionalism of medical and dental students.
Medical and dental profession have some key similarities that justify comparing them in the field of professionalism. Whilst distinct, dentistry shares many of the ethical foundations of medicine, such as the Hippocratic promise of best interest, confidentiality and respect for autonomy. The dentist/physician–patient relationship, much as is an intimate and personal one, demanding high levels of trust .
Regardless of similarities there are some key differences that might result in different attitudes towards e-professionalism. Dentistry is in some aspects considered being closer to cosmetic surgery or business professions, such as low and accountancy. Dentistry is more market oriented, and coupled with different cosmetic treatment options such as bleaching, aesthetic crowns and orthodontics it has created a market based on want rather than needs .
The disproportion of medical and dental students’ orientation towards private sector is documenter in UK study on dental undergraduate students who expressed that different expectations are places on dental students regarding SM use compared to medical students given that dentistry is a business .
Because of those reasons we believe dental students tend to be more open towards patients on SM, which makes them prone to bigger risk of e-professionalism violation.
The aim of this study is to develop and validate a scale for the assessment of attitude towards e-professionalism in medical students and dental students that could be used not only to measure attitude but also to compare those attitudes of these two populations. Results obtained from this research will be used to create and implement guidelines for e-professional behaviour for medical and dental students during their education, rather than for disciplinary purposes.
Rights and permissions
Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated in a credit line to the data.