Beyond the the Surgeons' Lounge: Leveraging Twitter for Networking and Career Advancement
Imagine a high profile and desirable neurosurgical conference hosted by leading neurosurgeons from around the world. Registration is free and attendees can join in from their living room, favorite coffee shop or even the surgeons’ lounge. All this, at a time that is convenient for you. Would you participate?
Surgeons have long known the power of coming together to share knowledge, ideas, questions, and inspiration. The Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS) was founded in 1931 (as The Harvey Cushing Society) as a forum for young neurosurgeons to discuss their work and report on their results.1 Twitter creates a similar forum, available to all neurosurgeons at any time, with conversations united by the addition of #neurosurgery.
Given the extent to which I thrive in the synergistic environment of professional conferences, it comes as no surprise to me that Twitter is my social media of choice. The allure of thousands of people from around the world, united by common interests and passions, energizes and inspires me. Twitter is a virtual conference, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, with participants limited only by language, time zones and access to technology.
When I put forth the idea of #ILookLikeASurgeon to the #SurgTweeting community and wrote a follow-up blog post to support my vision, I never could have imagined the international community that would be realized or the doors that would open.2 Not only has the movement provided me with an unprecedented professional network; I have forged global friendships that would have been impossible without the free, instantaneous and asynchronous communication accomplished in tweeting. As a preliminary general surgery resident who chose to take time away from training to tend to family, Twitter has provided me with mentors, research and leadership opportunities not available to previous generations. I have spoken virtually at conferences a continent away and authored journal articles with surgeons I have never met in-person.
While surgical networks are traditionally limited by subspecialty, Twitter facilitates networking across surgical disciplines. As a general surgery trainee, I am unlikely to ever attend a neurosurgical conference. Yet, by following a conference hashtag, I can virtually attend any surgical conference for free, and at a time convenient for me. Beyond the world of surgery, Twitter enables an interdisciplinary, interprofessional network inclusive of allied health professionals, scientists, journalists, policy makers and, perhaps most importantly, patients.
The downsides of Twitter are the technological and psychological hurdles. Sadly, some surgeons do not join the Twitter community out of fear of the technology or fear of appearing less than an expert on the platform. This is unfortunate; not only do these individuals miss out, but the whole community misses out. To those intimidated by the platform, I implore you to channel the courage that emboldened you to make your first incision. Twitter is the ideal “See one. Do one. Teach one.” environment. If you make a mistake, no one is injured. A Twitter mentor is only a tweet or direct message away. In joining Twitter with a humble attitude and a desire to learn, you can model lifelong learning. Twitter provides a unique opportunity for reverse mentoring, in which junior surgeons can mentor their mentors.
Much of the etiquette of networking at professional conferences holds true in the Twitterverse. For example, users who have a clear headshot and completed profile (with bio and geographic location) are perceived as more sincere and authentic. Imagine entering a group conversation at a conference with a bag over your head, or without stating your name, profession and place of residence – you would not be perceived as trustworthy or credible. The same holds true in the virtual environment of Twitter. Without being spoken or formally tweeted, one’s Twitter profile serves as an informal introduction. The importance of a completed Twitter profile cannot be overstated.
Completing a Twitter profile is the first step. The second is following your colleagues. I recommend searching #neurosurgery for suggested users and following broadly. Just as with your first surgical conference, it is fine to observe before taking a leadership role. Retweet liberally. As with in-person conversations, people love feeling heard. Being retweeted provides validation and further disseminates their message. Do not underestimate the impact of your retweets. If you find an article, video or website interesting, share it! Content curation alone is a skill and a professional contribution. As you observe and gain confidence, your voice will emerge.
#Neurosurgery is a virtual conference for neurosurgeons and anyone interested. I encourage you to join in on the conversation. Everyone wins with your participation.
Acknowledgment: The author would like to thank Jason Levine for reviewing a draft of this manuscript.
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