I am a physician, clinical researcher, and educator.
I am also on Twitter and tweet under the handle @EMARIANOMD.
Naturally you may ask: “How does Twitter fit into a physician’s academic career?” Some of the benefits that Twitter offers doctors have been described previously by Dr. Brian Secemsky and Dr. Marjorie Stiegler among others. Here are a few reasons of my own:
- Global Interaction: Through Twitter I interact with people from around the world with similar interests. Participating in Twitter chats like #healthxph or #hcldr can foster innovative ideas that may lead to research questions or other educational opportunities. For example, by tweeting on #kneereplacement, I was invited by orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Brian Hatten, to revise the anesthesia information page on his site, My Knee Guide, an incredible online portal for people considering or undergoing knee replacement surgery.
- Search Optimization: On multiple occasions, I have found research articles that my traditional PubMed searches have missed through the tweets posted by colleagues. I have even been able to relocate certain articles faster on Twitter than PubMed when I know they have been tweeted. Researchers can think of hashtags (starting with “#”) essentially like keywords in the academic world. I periodically check #anesthesia, #meded, #pain, and #kneereplacement for new articles related to my research interests.
- Lifelong Learning: When I was in training, I used to peruse the pages of JAMA and New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) in addition to my own specialty’s journals. Today, it’s difficult to even keep up with new articles just in my own subspecialty. Now I follow JAMA and NEJM on Twitter. By following journals, professional societies, and colleagues with similar interests, I honestly feel that my breadth of knowledge has increased beyond what I would have acquired on my own.
- Research Promotion: As a clinical researcher, my hope is that my study results will ultimately affect the care of patients. Sadly, the majority of traditionally-published scientific articles will not be read by anyone besides the authors and reviewers. Through Twitter, I can alert my followers when our research group publishes an article. I also get feedback and “peer review” from colleagues around the world. After a recent publication that I tweeted, I received comments from anesthesiologists in Canada and Europe within an hour!
- Enriched Conference Experience: A growing trend at medical conferences is “live-tweeting” the meeting. One of my own issues when I attend or present at conferences is that I feel like I miss much of the meeting due to scheduling conflicts. By living vicariously through my colleagues’ tweets at #ASRASpring15 for example, I can pick up pearls of wisdom from speakers in other sessions even while sitting in a different hall. I can also “virtually” attend conferences by following tweets under the hashtags of meetings like #PCP15 in the Philippines in the comfort of my own home.
I often get asked: “Does anyone really care if I tweet what I eat for breakfast?” Probably not. The truth is that you don’t have to tweet anything at all if you don’t want to. Up to 44% of Twitter accounts have never sent a tweet. Of course, to be a physician actively engaged on Twitter requires respect for patient privacy and professionalism. I recommend following Dr. John Mandrola’s 10 rules for doctors on social media.
In an interview during Stanford’s Big Data in Biomedicine Conference (video below), I had a chance to explain why I tweet. I’ll admit that getting started is intimidating, but I encourage you to try it if you haven’t already. I promise that you won’t regret it, and chances are that you’ll be very happy you did. If you’re still too worried to take the leap, I suggest reading these tips from Marie Ennis-O’Connor to boost your confidence. At least sign up, reserve your handle, and observe.
Observation is still a key part of the scientific method.