Physicians in Social Media: Defining an Online Presence
Part of a series on social media use for physician recruitment
By Miranda Grace, DASPR, Physician Recruiter, Lewistown Hospital, Lewistown, PA
When it comes to social media, there are many physicians who understand the potential impact it can have not only on clinicians, but patients as well. I spoke with some of these docs to get their take on this new tool and to see how, why, and to what extent they’re using it.
Kevin Pho, an internal medicine physician and founder/blogger at KevinMD.com, started his blog back in 2004. He said he launched it, “mainly because I wanted doctors to have a voice in the media.” Dr. Pho explained that as a physician, he and many of his colleagues get a lot of questions from patients regarding stories that they’ve read in the newspaper, online, or saw on television. He said he believes that if doctors aren’t online engaging with patients, then others will be there who may not have their best interest at heart. “It may be a company who’s trying to sell products to patients that may not be medically acceptable. So, if physicians can’t be the ones online, then other people will take their place…We’re going to lose our standing as healthcare authorities,” cautioned Dr. Pho.
Dr. Pho described his blog as “a medium that can dynamically keep up with the pace of breaking medical news.” Since allowing guest bloggers to post on his site, Dr. Pho has granted them the opportunity to share their points of view from their own particular expertise. Now, KevinMD.com has grown into what Dr. Pho describes as “a media platform where hundreds of physician voices can be heard.” He continued, “You can find them talking about health stories, you can find them talking about their opinions on health systems, and just telling the stories behind their practices.” It’s what he called, “Medicine from behind the scenes.”
Dr. Jennifer Dyer, pediatric endocrinologist and entrepreneur, developed an app that allows patients with diabetes to log and manage their daily insulin regimen — all the while receiving text message reminders and points that can be used toward iTunes downloads. “[The EndoGoddess app] was inspired by my patients,” Dr. Dyer said. “They wanted to download it…their interest was extremely infectious.”
Jennifer Dyer, MD
Along with advocating mobile health, Dr. Dyer is a huge proponent of health in social media. She blogs and uses Twitter regularly, setting strategic goals for herself with specific objectives in mind. “My first goal is health literacy,” Dr. Dyer said. “As social media is concerned, my intent is to get a correct message about science to patients and families so that they have the right information at their fingertips…if I’m providing good content, I feel that I’m achieving my goal.”
When asked where she foresees the use of social media by physicians, Dr. Dyer responded, “I’m noticing a lot more doctors who are joining Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, and I’m excited about that. There’s always the concern about HIPAA and some of the other legal liabilities that you put yourself at risk for with social media, but the biggest risk that I ever take is practicing medicine, not social media. The biggest risk I ever take is doing procedures and holding a human heart in my hand with veins that are being sewed on to it — and [the risk with] social media just doesn’t compare to that. I think it’s important to keep that in perspective. Words are powerful so you have to be careful, but I think that’s really the key. Tech and social media, as works, can be powerful and damaging; powerful good and powerful bad. And that’s what medicine is, too. Patients put their lives in your hands, and if you’re not diligent you could hurt the patient. If you’re diligent, you can help the patient…I think a lot of things are unimagined,” said Dr. Dyer.
Mary Jo Robinson, MD
Dr. Mary Jo Robinson, academic pathologist at Pacific Northwest University in Yakima, WA, uses Twitter, Facebook, and AOL regularly. She has a passion for healthcare social media and professionalism in medical education. Dr. Robinson, @mjrobin6714 on Twitter, said she began using social media because of her students’ attachment to it, “When I started at Pacific Northwest, some of my students were very involved in social media. One of my students in particular was always on Twitter. He started a blog and a social media page. I started to talk with some of those people on Twitter using the #hcsm and #meded hash tags, and I discovered quite a lot of information there on medical education.”
As a physician, Dr. Robinson finds value in being involved in social media because of the collaboration and support she receives from fellow providers. “[Social media] has really brought my world into perspective,” Dr. Robinson explained. “I’ve been able to communicate with physicians all over the world, not just physicians in the United States.” She also finds it useful to stay in touch with younger generations of physicians. “Those are the physicians you’re going to need to connect with,” she advised. “[They] are the ones that are going to pull the older physicians in.”
Medical students in social media
Students. All this talk of students got me thinking, how are medical students using this platform? If they’re the generation using it the most, then to what end? Why would they take time from studying to post, tweet, or blog? To share information? To network? To land a job after residency? We wish! There are any number of reasons for medical students to use social media, I learned from Danielle Jones, @daniellenjones on Twitter and author of mindonmed.com. Danielle just finished her final year of medical school at Texas Tech University. Why did she start her blog back in 2007? “Although I very much enjoy blogging on medical subjects, I never started this blog with the intention of becoming the voice of medical students — I just started it to write and to connect,” Danielle explained on her site.
Danielle’s plans include specializing in obstetrics and gynecology. She described her passion for obstetrics in her blog. “Last semester I got to deliver babies. As it turns out, that experience — one I never expected to be so supremely moved by — will soon become a part of my career. However, everyone doesn’t end up going into obstetrics and gynecology, but even so, most remember their first experience with birth. Some will recall it as shocking or scary, others as bloody and jarring, but almost all will tell you it’s nothing short of amazing…even if they hate obstetrics.” Danielle uses her blog to share experiences from inside medical school and inside her life. “I kind of mix and match what I choose to share,” she said, “I write a lot about my life and also about med school. I don’t like to read blogs that only write about the newest thing that they discovered or anything like that, I want to know there’s a person behind it.”
When asked why she thought medical students were more inclined to tweet or blog, Danielle responded, “I think a lot of it is generational. I also think that physicians who are in practice already are warning us to stay off of Twitter. I don’t think they understand the value of it because they haven’t been heavily involved in it. Most people, once they kind of get involved [in social media] and see what it has to offer, change their mind a bit, ” Danielle said. “People say things on Twitter that they would never say to their doctor…I think that [medical students] don’t understand how much things like infertility can change somebody’s life until they have truly seen their journey every step of the way…it takes over [patients’] lives. As a medical student, I don’t think I would have realized that if it wasn’t for the patients that I had interacted with on Twitter.”
Alia Dh, third year medical student at the University of British Columbia, also is heavily involved in social media by means of Twitter. She can be found at @alia_dh, where she tweets regularly on issues related to international health. Alia focuses on refugee food and nutrition in times of crisis, and spends a lot of time thinking about international development in the context of health. She decided to get involved in social media, primarily Twitter, because of a colleague who was already extensively involved. Alia said that Twitter and social media have created a community for her that she’s constantly learning and bouncing ideas off of, “Twitter and social media became an outlet to a world that I really didn’t have belonging in medicine. I quickly realized that through Twitter, I was being exposed to the ideas and people [who] were at the forefront of these fields that I’m interested in. It filled this intellectual void that I had, and it gave me a community where I could share ideas and connect with people who also are passionate about [international health].”
Alia also uses social media as a way to shape her future, “For me, [social media] is really pivotal, in terms of thinking about where I want to take medicine,” she explained, “My career and my life are so malleable at this stage. What I really want is exposure to as many things as possible, a mentorship and community that can help me grow into medicine in a way that really fits me.” Alia tweets often with a small group of medical students who she has really come to appreciate, “A few of us who usually tweet each other a lot were talking about how to pick a specialty, which was really important to me going into my third year. We were talking and tweeting, and at the end of it, someone said, ‘this is the benefit of having a social media family.’ That’s how connected I feel to these people that I may never meet, because they’ve supported me in so many ways and have opened my eyes to this world of medicine that I didn’t even know existed.”
Advice for recruiters
I couldn’t pass up the opportunity...I had to ask if these social media gurus had any advice for recruiters looking to hire a physician. Dr. Pho advised recruiters, “Reach out to doctors in as many avenues as possible…it’s just another tool in the toolbox.” Likewise, Dr. Dyer stressed the importance of a consistent message. “What’s really true about social media is consistency of passion really shows through. You can see that the passion is true and it builds on itself. I would think that it’s the same for physician recruiters saying, ‘I love my organization.’ It’s a long-term investment of not just saying it, but living it.” Dr. Robinson encouraged physician recruiters to reach out to the younger generation of doctors. “I would say persevere. Younger physicians are the ones that are going to use it. They are more familiar with social media, much more familiar than the older generation….I would also say, use everything — use Facebook, LinkedIn — use all of the different methods of social media in order to communicate with younger physicians.”
The medical students also had a few tips to share. Danielle Jones said “[social media’s] probably a great tool to get to know your applicants because it’s probably the people that you’re looking at to recruit. It’s so difficult to really tell much about someone just from looking at their CV.” She continued, “I think it definitely influences my opinion of a program when I see that they’re involved in social media. However, nobody gets anything on Twitter if they’re just sharing links to their blog or information about their company, or only open positions... things like that. I think there’s a lot to say for taking an interest in other people rather than just being on social media for your own benefit.”
Alia Dh spoke of what she and other medical students will be looking for when job hunting, “What’s really interesting about generation Y and generation Z, is that we’re not looking for jobs, we’re looking for culture, we’re looking for a good community, and we’re looking for careers that are not just 9 to 5. What I think social media tells me a lot about is the culture and the community behind a hospital. I can know that ‘such and such’ hospital has a really strong focus on international health, for example, because I know a lot of their residents tweet about international health. That’s something that would attract me there.” Alia continued, “When I’m looking for a community and when I’m looking for a job, I’m going to be looking at the people who are using social media that represent that institution. I can ask these people, ‘What’s it like there?’ Then it’s not such a blind process.”
To use social media successfully, it is very important to understand how physicians are using it. Many are connecting with colleagues, residents, and patients. Others are learning from industry leaders and health advocates….the rest...well, they just like to write.