How social media impacted a medical student’s career

Back in 2004, after I was accepted into Stanford University, a friend of mine at the university took me around on a campus tour. He showed me the building he lived in (Donner), his cafeteria (Stern), Hoover Tower, and all the usual sights. When it came time for him to tell me more about his classmates and dorm buddies, he promptly pulled up a webpage on his computer. “You have to see this cool new website,” he said proudly. “It’s called ‘Facebook‘. Once you get your Stanford.edu email address, register for this site. It will change … your … life.”

At the time, I had no idea what he was being so dramatic about. In 2009 I went to medical school, and somehow still remained isolated from the growing connection between social media and medicine. For me, Facebook, Twitter, and blogging remained forms of personal social indulgences, not outlets to be woven into my professional world.

However, my perspective on social media in the life of a medical professional has been completely transformed. Two months ago I was chosen to be the inaugural Stanford-NBC News Global Health Media Fellow, a year-long series of internships and experiences teaching me how to effectively utilize different media outlets to promote global health. In addition to experiences in TV broadcasting, communications, journalism, and photography, a key component of my fellowship is learning how to harness the momentum of social media to turn people’s attention towards global health issues. The power of communication is especially important in this field, as issues abroad may seem foreign and difficult to relate to. My challenge is to breach geographical, cultural, and educational barriers to make individuals understand global health disparities and feel inspired to make a difference.

For the first time ever, I started experimenting with different applications of these networking tools. Facebook statuses became headlines of breaking global health news. I created a new twitter account to post recent updates and photos from my fellowship and knowledge I have learned along the way. A new Linkedin account connected me with physicians in social media who are valuable mentors on this journey. Last but not least, I composed a blog of my adventures navigating the worlds of media and medicine. My blog is still a work in progress, but I am slowly building a reader base and getting my thoughts out there. The fellowship wants me to make others passionate about global health issues. Social networking has provided the perfect platform for me to do so by allowing me to engage with others to share my views, regardless of their backgrounds. Through different social media outlets, I have learned more about global health issues, networked with organizations, physicians, and policymakers, just to name a few, and found a way to amplify my words to reach readers around the world.

After learning about the far-reaching effects of social media, I have decided to make these tools a part of my future career. I do want to touch patients through direct clinical care, but I also want to be a global health resource and advocate for patient care world-wide. What better way to do so than to use strong social media platforms that have already been developed? Physicians should learn to use these technologies to develop their online presence because their professions poise them for global discourse with so many other fields, such as human rights, policymaking, community health, international health, and all types of research, just to name a few. I hope that as more medical students today learn about these other useful applications of social media in medicine, we can build a future generation of physicians who are more powerful communicators.

Joyce Ho is a medical student who blogs at the Global Health and Media Blog.  She can be reached on Twitter @MedGlobalHealth.

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