My Social Media Manifesto

I have a confession to make. Lately I’ve been doing some soul-searching regarding the future of my social media presence. It started at a lecture I attended a few weeks ago, where students and residents were cautioned to avoid public social media profiles and blogging. It came up again one morning while I was discussing some current events with other students, and was mentioned most recently at a professionalism talk that I attended. On each of these occurrences, I’ve found myself having to ferociously defend my position on the subject, only to receive the same, cautionary response, “Oh, I would just be careful..”

While difficult to convey in print, the overall tone of voice and demeanor that generally accompany this phrase are probably best described as ‘politely cynical.’ I don’t honestly know if my fellow medical students are that uninterested in social media by way of personal preference, or afraid of the repercussions that social media engagement may have on their budding careers. In either case, it is disheartening, and  I respond with the same passionate explanation of my point of view.

That’s not to say  that I also haven’t considered the consequences of choosing to maintain a public online presence, or that I haven’t been terrified by the prospect of being turned away on Match Day because my social media profile is viewed as a liability rather than an asset. However, it DOES mean I have been doing a lot more thinking about how I will one day tackle the issue of social media as I apply to residencies.

In college I decided to study communications because I liked to write and talk in front of people. I had always been the first to volunteer for class presentations and had done some high-school public speaking events, so I felt that studying communications would help make me a unique medical school applicant. As part of my graduation requirements, I put together a reader course with one of my professors to discuss different types of healthcare communications. We initially talked about topics like pharma advertising and small group and two-person didactic communication theories. One day the professor brought up the issue of patients receiving health information from websites, such as WebMD. That was my first experience with online medical information, and probably where my fascination with the relationship between health care and the media began.

With that said, the reasons I engage in social media reach far beyond a superficial compulsion to keep up-to-date with news and celebrity gossip. Through observation and practice, I have developed my own rules for participating both safely and ethically in online social spheres. I enjoy writing in general, and the fact that I maintain a blog and social media profiles has opened the door to multiple freelance writing positions, as well as valuable networking and mentorship opportunities.  While I am not qualified to (and certainly would not) disseminate any medical advice, I do feel as though I am establishing the credibility I need to one day advocate for my patients, particularly in the media. As was pointed out in a recent KevinMD post, celebrities and politicians currently hold more sway when it comes to providing medical information and changing public opinion than do trained physicians. I’m not saying I want to be the next Dr. Oz, but my background in writing, social media, and communications will certainly help me more effectively reach out to my patients, my government and community leaders, and my colleagues, as well as help me become a more effective medical educator, should my career take me down that path.

I can’t honestly say that my very first social media profile was created with the goal of career enhancement in mind. However, at this point in my education, I feel as though my background in social media is more of an asset- regardless of where in medicine I end up – than a liability, and I am thus proud to say that I will not be deleting or hiding any of my profiles as I advance to the next stage of medical education. My sites and profiles may undergo a few face-lifts as I conform to the social media policies of whichever institutions I become affiliated with, but I am officially here to stay.

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19 thoughts on “My Social Media Manifesto

  1. Great post, Allison. It wasn’t until this semester that I found how conflicting it is for medical students to involve themselves in social media. Students applying to med school are evidently being warned to remove themselves from SM and to clean all of their former online profiles. With that kind of intro to med school, the fear factor prevents them from engaging in courses like my Personalized Medicine 101 elective, which utilizes the internet and SM extensively (that’ where the info is, and that’s where the patients are). When @astupple completes his PM301 elective this year (Special Topics in Personalized Medicine), which focuses on providing a POLICY & STRATEGY on SM for med students at our university, this hopefully will overcome the biggest barrier to our students becoming engaged. It’s nice to see that you were able to reach this decision by your own intuition and judgement!

    • Thanks for reading, and for sharing your thoughts! I think it’s one thing for students to not take part in social media because of their own personal preferences or interests, but it’s another thing for institutions discourage those who participate in social media safely and with purpose. With that said, I think an elective course is a great way to engage those who are interested without pushing the topic on those who are not!

    • I’m glad you enjoyed – thanks so much for reading! As a medical student, we learn so much about advocacy and protecting the interests of our patients, but very little about doing so using “unconventional” means. Unfortunately, when it comes to social media, the “unconventional” is an area patients and the general public view as very “conventional,” and is something we can use to become better physicians!

  2. I applaud you, Allison. Current and future medical students (as well as trainees and practicing doctors) face a lot of skepticism and uncertainty about what will (or could) happen as result of their presence in Social Media. I think you have taken a bold stance; do not let anyone dissuade you from communicating. You will be a better physician as a result.

    • Thanks so much for the kind words! I think the hardest obstacle in clarifying my stance on social media is being able to clearly explain my goals; when people don’t understand social media as a whole, it’s even harder for them to understand how someone can use it with purpose. I’d also like to think that one day, when I’m actually a practicing physician, there will be some new bold and controversial media that medicine will be exploring.

  3. Allison, you go! By the time you graduate from med school, I’d be surprised if the dean is not tweeting while handing out diplomas. You state your approach to your participation in medicine online very well on your twitter page. That’s they way!

  4. I just recently came across your blog and I have been thoroughly enjoying it as I have just devoured all of your previous posts. (Wanted to comment often, but thought that would be annoying to comment so late!) Unfortunately, there are too many people in the world of medicine who are scared of social media and don’t know all of the wonderful and interesting personal and professional possibilities. (Then again, I am biased because my scholarship involves looking at social media and pediatrics.) Keep on writing and keep on touting the power of social media to influence and improve the world of medicine! As you will continue to see, despite the fact that medicine loves all the latest technology in terms of PET scan, robot surgery devices and capsule endoscopies, it is loathe to embrace things like social media or even EMR to some degree.

    • Its so nice to hear you enjoyed the posts! I think you bring up a good point about medicine and technology in general. For a field that is so reliant upon the newest, most innovative technology, the medical profession sure seems to hate change!

  5. I don’t want to be annoying “2 Comments in a Row” guy, but I forgot to check the ‘follow-up comments via email’ box before and this is the only way I know to fix that…..

  6. Bravo! I wish more physicians would use social media to connect with their patients, which (funny enough) was also the idea behind one of my recent blog posts, as well. Nice to know that I’m not the only one having to be pretty firm about my position on the whole thing to avoid being steamrolled by overly-zealous, protective peers.

  7. Pingback: Should I Delete My Blog or Twitter for Application Season? « Mind On Medicine

  8. Pingback: » Why I’m not hiding social media from residency interviews » Wordpress Practice Site Wordpress Practice Site

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