“I think I need to join twitter…”

I am a millennial physician. I tweet, podcast, and blog. The 21st century has brought significant shifts in communication technologies, spread of data availability, and restructuring of networking channels. Through social media, physicians and physicians-in-training have discovered new ways to learn, converse, foster professional development, gain visibility, and have a voice. I am here to share my story with you about how I came to harness medical Twitter (#medtwitter) for an engaged, fulfilling career in medicine.


I joined Twitter in February 2015. At the time, I was expanding my focus and expertise through our hospitalist-based preoperative medicine clinic. The growth curve for this knowledge acquisition was frequently frustrating as new publications, guidelines, and resources were spread out across several specialties. Even typing “perioperative” or “preoperative” into a PubMed search yielded many publications non-applicable to my practice, and my valiant attempt to use the OHSU library free access to skim the electronic table of contents (eTOCs) for major anesthesiology and surgical journals was short lived—very short lived.


My colleague, Dr. Renee Dversdal (@DrsonosRD), shared how she was utilizing Twitter through her expanding expertise in point-of-care-ultrasound (#POCUS) as an internist. At that time, POCUS was “housed” under emergency medicine as well as other specialties like critical care. Because POCUS was still in the innovator/early adopter phases, many of the content experts and novices were geographically and practice-area diverse. Internists were joining the community looking for content and networking. She excitedly shared how hashtags were being used to draw tweeters to the content.


It was a lightbulb moment. Were the basic mechanics of Twitter an answer to my question about how to learn as a hospitalist? Just as my colleague had discovered a multidisciplinary and international community connecting via a hashtag, the possibility of #perioperative medicine learning seemed strong.


With that lightbulb moment, I created my Twitter account for “free open access medical education” (#FOAMed). Between following perioperative content experts, professional societies, and journals as well as searching hashtags, I was immediately presented with a treasure trove of curated clinical information such as new publications, guidelines, and conference material shared via #meetingtweeting. I also soon realized that the value from Twitter came from doing more than reading but also from engaging in content and conversations with hospitalists, anesthesiologists, and surgeons. The learning opportunities continue to expand on Twitter, such as the adoption of #tweetorials as an effective learning tool.


But this story would be incomplete if I ended there. I haven’t said anything about “recognition” or “cultivating a professional identity.”


Access and voice” is one of my favorite themes to apply to #medtwitter. Social media gives health care professions a voice, and sometimes that voice gains a megaphone through which we have “impact and reach.” Some use that voice to teach, some to advocate, some to mentor or sponsor, some to combat misinformation, especially that which patients find on the Internet.


Social media gives women in medicine a unique megaphone through “nontraditional but far-reaching avenues for disseminating their research…to build their professional reputations and disseminate their academic portfolios.” Other members of the medical community who have historically not had a voice can also be added to this analysis, including underrepresented minorities in medicine (URMs). Multiple hashtags and accounts have been created to enhance this visibility and role modeling, such as #BlackMeninMedicine, #womeninmedicine, #IlooklikeaSurgeon, and @LatinasinMed. The positive spiral effect sets in—a woman gets noticed and indeed heard via social media, she gets an invitation, she gets more recognition, she gets more invitations. How?


The content you share on Twitter resonates with me, would you like to…

  • be our keynote speaker
  • work on a research project together
  • submit a workshop proposal
  • author this invited piece
  • be a guest on our podcasts
  • write for our blog


Social media, blogs, and podcasts share a mutually beneficial relationship. Social media helps us disseminate blogs or podcast, and it helps us earn invitations to participate in such. Those championing the value of such are also contributing to the discussion about a “paradigm shift” for non-traditional and novel scholarship—what is “acceptable”, “appropriate”, or “counts” as academic activities. Can you put on your CV? Should you? Can you put it in your promotion and tenure (P&T) application?


When we talk about the possibility of “social media activities on a CV”, we’re talking about shaking up long-standing traditional metrics of academic impact and reach—number of peer-reviewed publications, grant dollars, citations, H-index. But what metrics best measure the impact and reach of social media?


In May 2016, The Mayo Clinic announced that social media and digital activities would be incorporated into their P&T metrics. More institutions have begun to explore similar possibilities. Three years ago, I cautiously referenced some social media-based activities in my own promotion application for associate professor. This past June, I came to my annual review with a revamped CV and other samples of social media-related metrics—including for number of impressions for my tweetorials or podcast episode downloads, which are both far higher than my publication citation numbers. The novel information was well-received, and I definitely received encouragement to continue to utilize social media for professional purposes.


One of the criticisms of social media is that it disconnects us, but in reality, #medtwitter can actually connect us to like-minded individuals with the potential for professional collaborations and friendships. It’s a bigger sandbox. One might counter that we should channel our time and energy into collaborations with our institution colleagues. However, part of the pressure of academic medicine is to get increasing specialized such that no one at our institution shares the same niche as us. That can make it lonely on the home front. Finding collaborators, and new friends, occurs frequently and often organically via social media. Since I joined Twitter almost five years ago, I have published and presented with multiple new collaborators and colleagues who I met through the #medtwitter community. Because #medtwitter also helped me gain recognition as a specialist in perioperative medicine, as well as analyzing social media, I have been asked to write solicited pieces (including this blog post), present at national meetings, and join national committees. #Medtwitter even helped me connect with the internal medicine podcast, The Curbsiders, including recording two episodes and being appointed their honorary chief of perioperative medicine.


Social media also helps me cycle back and get to know colleagues at my institution better. We are rarely in the same place at the same time. I can see what my colleagues are interested in, and I can nurture their interests while celebrating and amplifying their accomplishments. I can do the same for residents, medical students, and APPs. I can do the same for colleagues from other departments, which has been invaluable in my role through the preoperative medicine clinic.


Social media is a means to an end, not a means itself. It’s tool to articulate our message and to connect. When I created my Twitter account five years ago, I had no ideas the doors it would open for me. I know that Twitter has afforded me opportunities that I would not have received without it, and I am truly appreciative. I do not take lightly my opportunities, and indeed responsibility, to pay it forward through these same channels.


If you are not on it, I invite you to join the #medtwitter community and explore it yourself. If you have any questions, I can be found there at @aoglasser.


Avital Y. O’Glasser, MD is a hospitalist and the medical director of the Pre-Operative Medicine Clinic at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU). She is also the OHSU Internal Medicine residency program’s Assistant Program Director for Social Media and Scholarship, where she has promoted residency program use of social media (including through @OHSUIMRes) as well as expanded a culture of support for “novel scholarship.” Scholarly interests include analyzing the effective use of health care social media and multidisciplinary perioperative medicine.