I recently had the opportunity to speak to a group of residents about social media and medicine. My goal for this talk was to provide a few ways to exploit social media to further their medical education and careers. Here is a sampling of what I talked about:
- Share your experience. The medical education system is complex. Sharing your own experiences will not only provide others insight into navigating the complicated path to becoming a doctor, but also provide an avenue for introspection. We frequently get caught up in simply passing tests or performing clinical duties without looking inward to understand how the process is shaping us and how we are shaping the process. Blogging is an excellent venue for letting others peek behind the curtain of medical education while enriching our own experience. (And it really doesn’t take as much time as you think.)
- Stay up on the latest research. Most major medical journals now have Twitter accounts to broadcast their latest and greatest research. I have put all of the journals I care most about into a Twitter list so I can jump to this list to see what is going on in the various research worlds I follow. Also, by following experts in a particular field, you can learn what is important and meaningful through their tweets and comments.
- Learn new approaches to medicine. A growing number of physician bloggers are directing the content of their blogs to cover their clinical approaches to certain conditions. In essence, this allows you to tap into various experts to learn how they might approach something like complicated pneumonia or UTI management. Often times, these experts are writing about a certain condition because new research or new guidelines have come out that have changed best practices. Instead of waiting to rotate through the infectious diseases or urology services to get this new knowledge, you can proactively seek it out.
- Connect with peers. Med school and residency are unique, stressful experiences. It is also a time of transition as med students make choices about residency programs and residents think about life after medical education. Reaching out beyond peers in your own institution can provide a different perspective and possibly open doors to new opportunities at other institutions (i.e.—unique fellowships, special research programs, collaborative projects, etc).
- See what patients are seeing. More and more patients are turning to the Internet for health information. A recent Pew Internet Survey found that roughly 60% of adult Americans have sought out health info on the web. It is common to hear patients bring up a new treatment they heard about on the news and subsequently read more about on the Internet. Instead of being reactive—only educating yourself once a patient brings it to your attention—you can proactively learn about such trends by following a few of the major media health blogs or Twitter feeds.
- Promote your own work. Med students and residents are often doing incredible things outside of their formal medical education. Whether it is directing the med student-run free clinic, producing artwork for sick kids, traveling to a foreign country to provide medical care, or researching a cure for cancer, people should know about the work you are doing. Institutions often try to promote this work because it makes them look good, but you don’t have to wait around for somebody to notice all of the amazing things you are doing. Social media gives you an outlet to share your work without formal media channels. Promoting your work is not all about boosting your ego (though that doesn’t hurt sometimes); it is about engaging others in what you are doing and creating an outlet for collaboration. You never know what may happen once you start putting your work out there.
- Manage your online reputation. For physicians in the working world, this is where their investment in social media truly pays off. Several physician bloggers (such as Dr. V and Dr. Luks) put a heavy emphasis on this. Although this principle may be a little less important for med students and residents, it is still important for us to begin cultivating a positive digital footprint. Prospective residency or fellowship programs will likely google your name to see what information is out there on you. Any prospective private practice you may wish to join as a partner will almost certainly check you out online (given they have a digital presence themselves). The best part about managing your online presence is that if you do the things I’ve talked about above and engage in social media in a positive and respectful manner, then your online reputation will be sterling without any extra effort.