Dr. Anne Marie Cunningham – Learning about Being Public

Identity — How is our use of digital media influencing who we are, what we do and who we say we are in ? How are our professional and personal identities changing and merging? These are important questions many of us are facing. In some professions like the medical profession they are critical questions. Questions wrapped up in medical ethics, morality and privacy.

My fifth #WOWWales tribute goes to a very gifted and very intelligent colleague and digital peep, Dr. Anne Marie Cunningham. Anne Marie is a general practitioner (GP) in the South Wales Valleys, a clinical lecturer and researcher of at Cardiff University. In her work she explores the role and impact of digital on the medical profession and what we educate about digital participation in today. 

Learning not to be one of the sheep …

I first learnt about Anne Marie‘ s blog, Wishful Thinking in Medical Education in early 2009. Her blog is an excellent source for her insights about how many of us are using digital technology in . Her posts are especially rich on issues the medicial profession and medical educators are facing about digital change.

Should a GP be friends with a patient on Facebook? Should doctors and nurses discuss patient cases in specialized mediated social networks? What happens when a medical specialist answers medical questions from friends or followers online? Will the sharing practices of medical students in higher education influence their professional reputation as medical practitioners?

Dr. Anne Marie Cunningham

These questions are important questions that many in the medical professional are debating. Anne Marie, an Irish woman in Wales, is not just discussing these questions, she is researching, writing, speaking, blogging, tweeting and sharing information about them. As she says on her blog:

 I am interested in the use of new technologies to further medical education but not just for the sake of it. I want to learn how to use the tools that are available to us as well as we can to help students get the most out of this course, and become better doctors.

In true form to the strap line on her blog, Anne Marie is determined not to be one of the sheep. She prides herself on being critical and  reflexive about social media and not being one of the herd. In a talk she gave at the Association for Learning Technology conference (below), Anne Marie indicates that from her experience:

Social media forces you to take on multiple viewpoints. It forces you to be more critical.

It is this boldness and transparency in how, what and where she engages and the questions she is exploring that I admire about Anne Marie. She has inspired me on many occasions to reflect on my own professional/personal identity online, examine my own fears and explore the fluidity of my own identities across the many and varied social digital contexts I participate — be it with students, colleagues, collaborators, family, friends or the wider public.

Learning about our public identities …

In 2011, Anne Marie was invited to give a talk about her work and ideas at the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) conference.

In this talk Anne Marie tackles some of the wider issues around our identities online. She introduces the audience to the importance of considering a constructive development approach to our ways of being — how we are socialized and how our identities are constructed through our own practices of self-authoring and digital participation. She also raises the question about who and how our ideas around medical privacy and patient-doctor confidentiality are established. 

Anne Marie explores these issues and ideas not just from the perspective of a medical educator; she also explores them from her own perspective as a general medical practitioner. She critically reflects on her own social digital practices as she participates as a way to inform her questions about digital participation, learning and medical education.

I wouldn’t say Anne Marie and I disagree on the issues around . I would say (and I think she would agree), that different professions are forming differing expectations about professional and personal public identity management through social media. In my work I explore changing practices in terms of organizational communications — be that media management, marketing, public relations with a focus on the cultural, nonprofit and higher education sectors.

Compared to the medical profession, individuals working in communications are expected to digitally participate as me as well as we.

That said, it doesn’t matter the profession we all face similar issues and ideas to the ones Anne Marie brings up in her talk (above) and in her work. One are important area is our awareness of the business of identity sharing through social digital contexts.

In 2011, I gave a talk on Digital Identity Management for the South Wales Women in Management Network. In this I spoke about the social data as an asset side of the argument of our public identities; and how many companies today trade in our identities. We therefore have a responsibility as digital participants to become informed about what we are sharing about our own identities, the identities of those we are connected to through our social networks — especially our children; and who benefits from this financially — the silent third party of social media services.

Anne Marie is at the cutting edge in the field of medical education — exploring being public as a medical professional on social media. However, learning and insights from her work can also help many of us outside the medical profession in our understanding of the public performance of our professional identities and our learning around the principles of digital professionalism.

To Anne Marie, I dedicate this #wowwales tribute.

Dr. Anne Marie a #wowwales colleague, mentor, and friend.


Read more about my #Wowwales Insight Series. From the 9th February to the 9th of March, I’ll post a new blog post every day with a tribute to someone who has inspired, mentored or encouraged me during my 10 years here in Wales. 

You can follow my insight series @drkellypage with the hashtag #wowwales. OR why not join me and contribute your own blog tribute to the Women of your World (#WOW) — women who inspire, mentor or encourage you. 

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