Academic promotion criteria should include social media

“Doctor, could we have a copy of your most recent CV.”

“Sure,” I said, realizing it hadn’t been updated recently.

It is interesting how I approach my academic pursuits now.  It used to be that it was “publish or perish” in the world of academic medicine.  Of course, even now the only “publishing” that counts to the academic world is that of conventional peer-reviewed journals with high impact factors (or grant applications that bring in dollars).  But publishing for the sake of publishing may have its limits, too, since some researchers chose to publish the same research data in many publications and in different formats just to pad their curriculum vitae (CV).

We’re seeing a new era of complete disruption in medicine.  Scientific publishing is no different.  Peer-reviewed journals, while still considered most “scientific” by the academic community, are finding their relatively long turn-around times and paywalls competing against more nimble peer-reviewed open access journals that foster and promote broad commentary across disciplines for free.  Blogs, too, encourage open, free communication and, because they are often syndicated using RSS feed, can have a significant “impact factor” to not only the public, but more conventional main stream media.

It is no secret that I have published much more on this blog’s pages than I ever would have via peer reviewed journals.  After all, it can be enjoyable and there is virtually no barrier to entering a discussion here.  I have enjoyed the to and fro commentary here and found there are many insightful individuals that greatly enrich not only this blog’s content, but my perspective.  In effect, writer and reader both learn here.

Fantastic.

But there’s another interesting thing I’ve come to find as a result of my work to publish here that academic centers who want to influence discussions should know: I am certain that several topics I have covered in these pages have had MUCH more influence on my chosen field than they they would have had I published just in a closed access, peer-reviewed journal.  Hyperlinks can substantiate claims.  As such, blogs can be change agents and influence action.  In return, I find the process of researching and publishing in this forum increasingly worthwhile professionally.  Writing here can also keep me sane when I need it most.

Sure, there are legal risks to publishing a blog.  HIPAA rules, the permanence of this record, the need to avoid defamation, etc. are critical aspects of working in this public space.  But opinions and unique perspectives that are freely searchable on the Internet can spark other ideas or areas for analysis not previously considered in the fixed black-and-white world of print media.  Discussion threads, while now more commonplace behind journal paywalls, remain restrictive to public discovery and review there.

Currently, a link to my blog exists on my curriculum vitae.  I realize it may never be reviewed by the academic medical world nor might it facilitate my academic promotion.  For me, I won’t be crushed if that’s the case.  But for younger doctors just getting started, their efforts at maintaining a well-written scientific blog should be rewarded academically in my view, just like a scientific paper.  After all, a good blog can contribute to important scientific and educational discussions.

Perhaps it’s time academic centers routinely include social media contributions as a regular part of their academic promotion criteria.  It’s not everything, certainly.  But careful, thoughtful, and responsible online writing and interactions should be valued and promoted formally by academic centers in this Internet age.

Wes Fisher is a cardiologist who blogs at Dr. Wes.

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