Medical Education Monday – Social Media

Today’s Medical Education Monday is going to take a bit of a different direction. I’ve run out of foreign medical students and doctor friends for the time being, so today I’m going to focus on a different aspect of Medical Education – Social MediaIn the mean time, if you know someone in medicine from a country we haven’t covered send them my way – I’d love to have them! If you missed it, you can read through the past editions of Medical Education Monday here

Original Photo Courtesy of Flick Creative Commons User: smemon87
Like other medical student bloggers, my experience has been that, while really wonderful and up-to-date on most all subjects regarding student relations and professionalism, my school has largely ignored the prospect of students or physicians having a presence in Social Media. We’ve had one or two discussions on the subject whereby a (non-tweeting, non-blogging) professor stood at the front of the room and declared “The Facebook” a bad place to spend time. We were basically told not to “friend” patients and that was that. 

This obviously overlooks a very large, and likely more positive, realm of social media – blogs and Twitter. 

Most people use Facebook as a personal outlet – a place to stay caught up with friends and family members. I don’t think any of you need to be told not to friend your patients on your personal Facebook accounts. So, why are we dodging the larger issues? Why are we ignoring the fact that there needs to be a set of rules and examples in place to avoid issues like what happened with the Kansas nursing student who posted a placenta photo on her Facebook*. 

We really need to stand up and demand a defined set of rules for social media use, not because most of us are breaking any rules with our blogs or tweets, but because without one we are all at the mercy of what a school administrator arbitrarily finds to be “unprofessional.” And, as we saw last week with the Twitter & Blogging Physician Professionalism War of May 2011, the definitions of professionalism vary widely amongst people in our profession. 

So, why don’t I simply talk to my school admins and request that a set of rules be put in place? Well, like fellow med student blogger Fresh White Coat said so well, after the lectures and “advice” we’ve been given regarding the use of Social Media I simply don’t trust that a constructive, rather than restrictive, policy will be devised.

That being said, I’m going to take some time over the next few weeks to write some posts about how I feel my use of social media has made me a better student and will make a better doctor. If we can show the nay-sayers just how beneficial the world of Twitter and blogging can be to us as students, perhaps we can move forward in the initiative to get uniform guidance, support and protection laid out. Until then, we are quite literally at the mercy of an arbitrary definition and pliable area of gray. 

I’m going to need your help, though. If you’re a medical student, doctor or patient (that covers basically all of you) please leave a comment telling me how you think social media has positively influenced you. Has it connected you to other students? Other physicians? Given you an outlet to discuss issues that are important to you? Kept you up-to-date? Helped you learn to engage in academic and medical conversations? If you don’t feel comfortable leaving a comment, feel free to contact me.  

Over the next few weeks I’ll compile your positives and many of my own and discuss the pros of social media. We all know the cons and I don’t think I need to waste my time listing that out here, instead I will discuss things like

  • Why I choose not to blog anonymously
  • How Twitter communities of patients and activists have helped me
  • How meeting med students from around the world has been beneficial 
  • Staying up-to-date & aware thanks to Tweeting/Blogging students & docs

I look forward to hearing your opinions!

*I’m not here to debate the rightness or wrongness of this, but for the record I 100% believe the school was in the wrong to dismiss her from her studies. 

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  1. C

    interesting topic. I blog semi- anonymously (I even went so far as to change my url) mainly because I don't want there to be any repercussions when I apply to residency- though at that point I'll be making it private. I started my blog as a fashion blog prior to med school and now it's mostly evolved into a journal of my med school experiences, which despite being online isn't something I'd really want classmates reading. I've never really talked about patients and don't plan on starting to even once 3rd year starts. It's just too risky.


  2. apotential

    I'm with C. I haven't and won't be blogging about patients.

    I've actually thought a lot about un-anonymizing myself, but in the end, I'm too interested in psychiatry to take that chance.

    Most physicians can get away with having a professional personality or voice, but psychoanalysis requires anonymity even in the analytic session itself. (Not saying that's my future career, but I sure haven't ruled it out yet.)

    So I'm anonymous as far as google is concerned. If I end up going into something else, I'll eventually de-anonymize. 🙂


  3. Jin Packard

    Danielle, this is a really cool post (and not just because I'm in it)! People I follow on Twitter usually take time to really think before they broadcast those ≤140 letter messages.

    I've been active on Twitter for less than 2mos, blogging for 6mos, and it's already massively increased my consumption of news, journal articles and opinions. It also encourages participation, and has connected me to people from around the world who share great insight. Your blog being one of many.

    That said, there's a suprisingly small number of usual suspects who participate. That just means health care & social media is a new field and we're at the forefront.

    I got some great comments on my last blog post about why some people are in favor of anonymous med-blogging, and I don't want to rehash them here, but I think anonymity should be reserved for circumstances that demand it, and for people who really need it.


  4. Paul Dorio

    I agree with Jin. Good comments. I've been on Facebook for quite a while – added all the usual private, personal, but non-threatening and safe, stuff. That said, I find Twitter sooo much more useful. Facebook is quite useful, as you said, to check up on friends and family and keep in touch, etc.

    Twitter is a fantastic medium by which I've gotten in touch with and made some friends with people all over the world – India, Australia, South Africa, California, and here in Florida, to name just a few. It allows the user to search and find anything on any topic. I choose to search medicine, doctor, radiology, politics, Apollo Ohno, and a few other things. The key, though, is to always assume that whatever you post is public. I always use my real name – I think, and have been told, that it greatly adds to one's integrity, credibility and accessibility to do so. I'll stick with that for sure. I could go on, but I'll leave it at that for now. Great blog, btw. Nice job.


  5. Maya

    I'm coming at this from the patient perspective. I would be pretty mad if I ever found out that my physician was blogging about me. That's a little hypocritical I suppose, as I have blogged about my interactions with medical professionals, though I never name them or the hospital. I do not mind the idea of doctors/nurses/students/etc blogging about patients, but I think great care needs to be taken to keep those patients anonymous.

    I enjoy discussing medical theory/practices on twitter. I've gotten some great advice on everything from my son's cold to pregnancy complications. Some of the doctors I tweet with send out great articles on research advancements. I've also had the opportunity to discuss my rare disorder (Marfan syndrome) with med students, doctors, and nurses alike. I hope that has provided some insight and information that would not otherwise have been learned from textbooks.


  6. Jeff Kraakevik

    I'm a staff physician, and have been on Twitter now for a just at two years. I have tried to blog in the past with trouble remaining consistent, and have recently re-tried to fire up a blog on medical education. I also have a Facebook page (OHSU Virtual Neurology Clerkship) where I'm hoping to share things that are interesting/ new developments in the world of neurology with medical students.

    I think the biggest thing I've gained from social media (mainly Twitter) is much like those in previous comments in that I've gained insights from people literally all over the world who are interested in the same things I'm interested in. I've been the most impressed with the medical education community – most of whom post to the hashtag #meded. I've found a lot of very helpful websites and ideas that I've incorporated into my teaching medical students. I also enjoy the community of medical students, and have really liked getting to 'know' people like yourself.



    I'm with you, sister! I got involved in Facebook/Twitter gradually. I got a Facebook account before going to college, and then moved to Twitter out of curiosity. I was initially super-anonymous and kept all my accounts private, although more for safety reasons than liability or professional reasons. I started following more and more medical professionals, learning more things, and now I'm the go-to classmate when someone wants to talk policy or medical news. I learned the ins-and-outs of professional social media by trial and error while I was still an anonymous entity in cyberspace. After awhile it just made sense for me to go public and start blogging as well, and here I am.

    I also write a lot of posts regarding social media on my own blog. I like to clarify my own
    "social media rules" and point out things that students should or should not be doing. Why? Because no one else does. As you have pointed out, most medical school policies just involve total avoidance of social media. We are part of a generation that has grown up with social media. We know how to use it, and we are slowly but surely defining what is professional and what is advantageous to our patients. In other words, there are no institutional rules because it is up to us to write and enforce them so the next generation of physicians can be better prepared. Perhaps they'll have some bigger, more astounding ethical dilemma to debate.

    As for patient-blogging, I see both sides. If I experience a moving and particularly meaningful patient interaction, I will most likely be inclined to share it with others, and ask for their opinions on how they may have handled a similar encounter. I don't plan on violating anyone's privacy, degrading patients, or anything of the like. And it probably won't even happen immediately after the interaction. This is my plan anyway, at least until some policy (or an otherwise higher-up) tells me that I can't.

    Great post, and I hope this is of some help!


  8. Bryan Vartabedian

    I agree w/ Paul and Jin. I might add that you never really understand an issue until you write about it.


  9. Jin

    Danielle, you might also want to see Jennifer's post as a premed blogger and how that plays into her admissions process. Maybe you heard on Twitter but I'll put it here so other readers can access it too:


  10. Christopher Bayne

    I don't interact anonymously because medicine does not call physicians to engage their patients anonymously.

    I'm have a hard time understanding why some physicians and medical students think "unique" circumstances are okay for anonymity. I think anonymity is counterproductive. If you can't stand by your words, they probably don't need to be said. The only exception to this that I can understand is physicians and medical students blogging about their personal struggles–sexual orientation and personal illness are the one that stands out to me–in the profession. Other than that, if you're discussing patient care, anonymity hurts the profession by dividing the social media into two crowds: the nameless, faceless physicians and the patients.


  11. smokeshow

    Everyone is so obsessed with the "importance of social media in medicine" to the point that they talk more about how social media is so great than about actual medical stuff.


  12. Danielle

    Yes, smokeshow – you are correct. I have written more here about social media than anything else. I'll make sure I keep that in check in the future.

    1 out of 60+ blogs is just really pushing it.


  13. Marianne DiNapoli

    How has SM positively influenced me? Blogging has forced me to reflect on my experience. My readers' comments have also helped me see things from a patient's point of view to keep it in perspective. And I also blog with my real name because one day I hope to write a book!


  14. Dr. Army Wife

    Right now I'm mainly blogging about my experiences as a spouse of a deployed Soldier. However, I'm starting residency next week (yikes) and I'm sure I will have more medically oriented posts in the future. I do try to keep my blog as anonymous as possible (although it probably wouldn't be that hard to put the pieces of the puzzle together). I'm not particularly worried about what I'm writing, but at this point I'm just more comfortable that way. Maybe it's because I just came off the residency application process and I'm still feeling slightly paranoid. Plus, I'm being more cautious in regards to divulging identifying information about my husband and his unit while they are overseas. I can't say enough about the benefits of blogging – it's such an amazing outlet and can be a phenomenal learning tool.


  15. Buy Medicine

    The positive comments and do well wishes are very motivational and greatly appreciated.


  16. Atalanta

    I absolutely agree. I wrote something of a tirade on my blog about this – my faculty is playing around with restricting our use of Facebook as well. And I just don’t see how it applies *at all* to how I practice. Never mind that our med student association recently had to withdraw all its organization from an event simply because the invite e-mail suggested that people could come to this off-campus, non-faculty-associated event and get [drunk]. It’s all rather silly.

    – Atalanta


  17. Mike

    Well, nothing like being late to the game, but social media is actually my main area of scholarship (meaning I am using it to get promoted from assistant professor to associate professor). I have been to a couple of other programs to give Grand Rounds, had a commentary published in Journal of Pediatrics and a handful of other things. It has definitely opened up a lot of doors for me and it is a hot area of scholarship for a great many other people. I could bore everyone to death with the reams and reams of studies I could throw out that show how social media is positively affecting medicine and people’s careers. Check out this article about Google Flu or this one about the power of Twitter to spread medical misinformation . Sorry, I’m a huge dork who loves this stuff…


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