As I met with the vice dean of academic affairs to discuss my readiness for promotion from assistant to associate professor of pediatrics, I led with the usual list of accomplishments. After all, I thought I was pretty well rounded, with achievements in teaching, patient care, institutional service, quality improvement, and research. Unfortunately, this meeting was not going as I had hoped and I sensed ambivalence from the other end of the table … and then I mentioned Twitter.
As mostly an aside, I discussed how I had been using Twitter for the past three years to engage with patients, colleagues, and the media. The vice dean suddenly came to life and started to ask probing questions. Could I directly relate patient referrals to my use of Twitter? Did I receive invitations to speak at national conferences due to Twitter? Have I gained a national reputation based upon Twitter? Then I realized that the answer to all three (and others) was yes!
His assistant came into the room for an unrelated reason, and he asked her to sit and listen to my elevator speech as to why I felt I should be considered for promotion. Only this time, he said, “Start with the stuff about Twitter.” So I did, not only that day, but in my dossier preparation as well. And it worked.
I initially joined Twitter in 2013 as a means to get involved in social media to help address and dispel common misconceptions pertaining to allergic conditions. I quickly grew enamored with Twitter, using it to provide “MythBuster” tips, engage with the general public, and ultimately grow my personal brand. With full support from my hospital’s social media department, I was encouraged to get involved to my heart’s content.
Along the way, I developed a target audience consisting of parents of children and people living with allergic conditions, along with colleagues from across the world. In November 2014, one of my tweets went viral, ultimately gaining over 16,000 retweets and national attention. I was named to two separate BuzzFeed lists and one of 2014’s most influential health care tweets by Forbes. I nearly doubled my 1,000 followers within a month, but most importantly, I had learned a valuable lesson regarding the power of social media.
Now there’s obviously more to it that accidentally going viral one afternoon. I used Twitter to gain a national reputation within my specialty and received invitations to speak at national meetings and train my colleagues about the benefits of social media. This also led to invitations to serve as chair or vice chair of national committees. I published a paper regarding Twitter hashtag use at allergy conferences and during live chats. I am routinely invited by websites and organizations to create new content via blog posts addressing the latest research findings or common questions. I receive media requests surrounding research findings and have been invited on several podcasts…all who found me on Twitter. Lastly, along with some colleagues, I also developed the first curriculum at our institution for a health care social media elective for residents and medical students.
My biggest challenge was trying to speak the same language as the promotion and tenure committee. While they may not understand what it means to have 6,000 Twitter followers, committee members respond very well to checklists of accomplishments such as invited presentations at national conferences, publications in peer-reviewed journals, and involvement in national committees.
When I submitted my dossier, I promised myself that if I could pull this off, I would write about it so others may benefit as well. I encourage anyone using social media as a medical professional to develop goals as to why you are in this space. If it’s for enjoyment and personal use, that’s great. If you are in academic medicine, however, then consider ways in which you can harness your social media involvement to also grow along the more traditional path. Make sure you understand your institution’s requirements for promotion at each level and prepare for a few awkward glances at first. But, with time and effort, you may also be able to forge a new path in academia through use of social media.
David R. Stukus is an associate professor of pediatrics, Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Ohio State University College of Medicine, Columbus OH.