A physician’s first 100 days on Twitter

Since finishing my medical training recently, many of my friends have embraced their newfound freedom as attendings in traditional ways: reviving long-neglected hobbies, finally exercising regularly, enjoying more time with loved ones.

Me? I joined Twitter.

It may seem like a strange step, but after years of caution regarding the perils of social media as a physician (and more specifically, as a child, adolescent and adult psychiatrist), it was only once I had my fellowship certificate in hand — and thus the confidence that a wayward tweet would not sabotage my future — that I had the confidence to take the plunge.

Overall, I’m glad I did.

Of course, there are downsides to Twitter, but so far, there have been far more benefits. And while my nebulous pre-Twitter understanding was that MDs join to “create an online presence,” which is true, I’ve since discovered many unanticipated perks. Here’s ten of them:

1. Expose yourself to medical specialties other than your own. I’ve spent much of my time hanging around #medtwitter, which is inhabited by MDs of all specialties: I follow emergency docs, surgeons, pediatricians, ophthalmologists and more. #Medtwitter offers a unique look into other medical subcultures and allows me easy access to debates and conversations taking place within their communities. #Medtwitter provides an opportunity for cross-pollination and an antidote to the medical specialty silo. Through Twitter, I’ve been exposed to docs like @vinayprasadmph, who masterfully breaks down flawed papers, or @choo_ek, who advocates and educates around topics such as sexism or racism in medicine with sharp wit and humor.

2. Connect with colleagues in your field — especially non-MDs. In just three months, I’ve built a virtual network of doctors, psychologists, social workers and more, with a broad range of interests that overlap with mine. Without Twitter, it would be particularly hard for me to find and connect to non-MDs: for example, I have an interest in human-centered design, so I follow a number of design-focused folks, which allows for easily sharing ideas across disciplines. Sure, these twitter connections are no replacement for colleagues and friends IRL (in real life), but they’re a wonderful complement to my existing community.

3. Consult and learn from colleagues. Often, I’ll see MDs pose a question, and immediately get lots of honest and helpful input. I’ve also come to appreciate MD “tweetorials” (a brief string of tweets focused on educating regarding one topic), which I’ve seen on everything from radiation of prostate cancer (@RTendulkarMD) to management of delirium (@virenkaul) to motivational interviewing of college students regarding marijuana use (@jessigold).

4. Learn directly from patients. Twitter is one of the few places where doctors and patients are literally on the same page. It’s a unique platform for learning about the patient experience. I’ve read heartwarming stories and horror stories — and everything in between.

5. Educate the public. After over a decade of training, MDs possess a unique body of knowledge. Not only must we be responsible stewardesses of this knowledge, we have an obligation to share it. The mass exposure facilitated by Twitter allows for an unprecedented dissemination of knowledge. I’m a psychiatrist, so my focus is on increasing awareness and reducing the stigma of mental illness and treatment, but all specialties have something special to contribute.

6. Counteract misinformation. Similar to the point above, while MDs may hesitate to share their knowledge and expertise on Twitter, conspiracy theorists, sellers of snake-oil, anti-vaxxers and the like have no such reservations. Some of the most inspiring MDs I see on Twitter (@yonifreedhoff) are those who relentlessly challenge the torrent of misinformation being distributed.

7. Collaborate internationally. I am currently located in Israel. My followers are from around the globe: India, England, U.S. and elsewhere. I follow people from all over. Twitter has quickly expanded my exposure to people with similar interests from all over the world in a way that would be impossible to replicate via the more traditional methods of networking, such as attending conferences.

8. Mentor and guide trainees. Years ago, as a post-baccalaureate pre-med student, I craved guidance from MDs who were settling into their careers, but it wasn’t always easy to find. Twitter is a chance to give back: from answering specific questions to providing insights and advice. For example, I started a thread inviting MDs from different disciplines to share why they chose their specialties. Before long, MDs from a diverse array of specialties chimed in, to the benefit of pre-med and med students as they consider their futures.

9. Interact with thought leaders. I frequently see intellectuals and top MDs engaging with their followers in real time, and I’ve retweeted some superstars, earning appreciative “likes” in response (the Twitter equivalent of an autograph).

10. Become amused — or inspired. Whether following hilarious (@docaroundthclok) or inspiring MDs (@drpoorman, @adamhill1212) — or the many hilarious or inspiring non-medical folk — Twitter offers comic relief, uplift and more.

Certainly, Twitter is a platform with pitfalls and flaws, and MDs must be especially careful to use their professional discretion when on Twitter (there are plenty of resources for that, for example, this website featuring my fellowship director @sandradejong). But that said, it’s a great place to be amused, engaged, informed, and connected.

Now, if only I could find time to exercise more regularly.

Sol Adelsky is a psychiatrist and can be reached Twitter @soladelsky.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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