Why Medical Education Should Embrace Social Media

Social Media and Medical Education: Access Denied.

-By Rebecca Hastings, D.O.

I have never been very computer or tech savvy.  I’m not up-to-date on the latest technology, but I do have a smart phone and a laptop which I use for their very basic purposes; and I do admit I have a Facebook account, mostly for keeping in touch with friends and family and, you know, the daily grind.  Up until recently, I had no idea how to “Tweet” or what Twitter was really all about.  A physician mentor of mine suggested that I start a Twitter account and take advantage of the vast amount of knowledge floating around in Twitter world.  I was hesitant at first since my free time is limited and I didn’t really need any additional distractions from my fellowship.  Plus, I definitely didn’t need to join another social media network to share pictures and read about everyone’s daily happenings.  But, I trust my mentor and appreciate his guidance, so I signed up.  And WOW!  Information overload at my fingertips!!  Within a few minutes, I became a “follower” of JAMA, Chest, Cleveland Clinic, Johns Hopkins, New England Journal of Medicine, the Annals of Internal Medicine and numerous other large medical journals and institutions.  Granted, I may have also become a “follower” of a couple fitness magazines and my beloved Kansas Jayhawks, but the majority of my Twitter thread consists of these professional organizations.  I had immediate access to hundreds of tweets from these prestigious institutions across the world.  These world-renowned entities were “tweeting” about medical information, both past and present.  They were sharing everything from major review articles to personal reflections and comic strips.  Not only were the major institutions sharing these, but other physicians were sharing their professional opinions and other articles that they found important and interesting.  By signing up for Twitter, I had opened my eyes to a whole new world of medical education.

At first, I mostly just browsed articles and topics that were posted.  But the more I read, the more I wanted to share.  I felt like others were helping me, so why not share the knowledge.   One afternoon, I sat down in the fellow call room on a break.  I had been browsing my Twitter feed on my phone and there were a couple of interesting articles and commentaries I wanted to read.  But low and behold, when signing in, a big red box comes across the screen stating “Access Denied.”  Ok, so I know Twitter is technically considered social media, but why can’t social media be used as an educational tool?  Large renowned institutions and organizations are tweeting valuable information pertaining to my livelihood and I can’t access it “on the job” where I’m supposed to be gaining an education.

I completely understand the philosophy of “internet censoring”.  I mean, who wants to see Johnny Five post 15 pictures a day from his iPhone about what he had for lunch while he’s supposed to be getting paid to do his job.  There is a time and a place for social media.  But why not allow some social media in the workplace as an educational tool? Why not allow residents and fellows the opportunity to access this information in their downtime?  Twitter, and/or other social media networks, could be viewed as a great opportunity for medical professionals to share information with one another.  Why not start a “Pulmonary and Critical Care fellow’s page” and fill it with all the landmark articles, recent advancements, personal stories, financial advice, and multiple other topics important for fellows to become well-rounded physicians?  Not only do you have access to scientific information, but also personal stories and advice that humanize medicine.  Other healthcare professionals’ comments encourage you to think about topics in a way you might not have done so previously.  This allows you to grow, not only professionally, but personally.  Wouldn’t it be great if residents, fellows and physicians started tweeting about their experiences, and sharing information they found useful for their practice? After all, medicine is an art.  The beauty of the network is that you have the power to choose who you follow and what you read based upon your professional needs.  It’s a way to stay up-to-date on current medical events, to network with other professionals, and to follow what other medical professionals are reading; things that you should probably be reading, but just didn’t really know existed.

In this age of technology, healthcare social media is becoming an all new important and emerging part of medicine.  One that until recently, I didn’t even realize existed.  Training programs all across the country, at least in my neck of the woods, are censoring how their residents and fellows are using their resources.  What do you think about unlocking their social media access while at the workplace and opening this up as an avenue for education and growth?  In this new generation of healthcare social media networking, maybe “access denied” isn’t just prohibiting trainees from posting their favorite Harlem shake video on hospital time.  Maybe it is actually prohibiting the the expansion of educational opportunities in the modern age. It’s time that medical education answer the call of this tremendous opportunity.

-Rebecca Hastings, D.O. is a Pulmonary, Critical Care Fellow. She is on twitter @RR_Hastings.