One Neurosurgeon’s Twitter
Twitter and Me – The Start
Twitter became part of my life in August 2009. To start, I followed my husband and six friends; we shared jokes and local news. Eight years later, I’m connected to doctors all over the world. I’ve been retweeted by Atul Gawande, Nathan Fillion and Piers Morgan. I learn and teach, connect and communicate daily – all via Twitter.
Early on, I considered whether to split my personal and professional selves into different accounts, as people sometimes do, but concluded it’s not a bad thing for the public to see that doctors are also human beings. So I tweet about neurosurgery, music, public health, parenting, the opioid crisis, feminism, flu shots, knitting, brain-computer interfaces, our backcountry canoe trips and occasional sci-fi geekery; in short, me. Well, a curated version of me: professionalism is key. I select my content carefully. I do not retweet accounts with a name or icon that might be objectionable or tweets containing profanity. I am extremely careful about privacy laws and I never tweet anything work-related in real time. I do not give medical advice on specific situations, but I will provide general information and try to always respond if asked a question. As part of my role as a physician, I communicate evidence-based information on health and be a trusted and familiar voice in my community. Social media is one way to accomplish this. Being on social media also provides a way to manage your online reputation, by positioning content that you create in search results. If you Google me, my Twitter feed is the top hit – I’m the one defining myself online.
Lifelong Learning on Twitter
Twitter is also an excellent support to lifelong learning. There’s the direct content – I do nearly all my journal reading via Twitter. Many journals regularly tweet their articles #OnlineFirst, or a colleague will post a link together with their 140-character take on the research. Organized asynchronous learning occurs under medical education hashtags such as #FOAMed (Free Open Access Medical Education), while conferences increasingly encourage attendees to tweet from talks. Then there’s the more nebulous, but perhaps even more valuable, learning that comes in the form of discussion, debate, questions and comments from learners, patients, basic science researchers, other health-care professionals, physicians and surgeons internationally. It is fascinating and thought-provoking to see the similarities, differences and disparities in health systems.
A few years ago, during a brief moment of downtime in the OR, I took a photo of the lightbox long superseded by our radiology PACS and light-heartedly tweeted, “Remnant of a bygone age.” Within moments, a Twitter friend gently advised me, “In Kenya, that’s the most current tech … I view films via natural sunlight! #Ancient”. That moment stays with me as a reminder both of my first-world privilege, and also that Twitter is a worldwide audience.
Twitter embraces diversity, visibility and representation. Your Twitter feed is your personal broadcast. You can stand out like a beacon and represent a minority, you can’t be talked over or interrupted – and yet, it’s interactive. Sharing stories and solidarity with other women in surgery has been invaluable. I joined the #ILookLikeASurgeon hashtag within a day or two of its creation and it continues to encourage and inspire.
Ultimately, I’m on Twitter because it’s fun. Among the news, politics and science are brilliant jokes, heart-warming stories and, yes, cat pictures. Follow smart, funny, compassionate people and your Twitter feed becomes a highly enjoyable hangout. Reply to them, engage with people who reply to you and find new friends in communities you might never otherwise have encountered.
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