#DoubleDocs Online: Making Real Connections in a Virtual World
By Katherine Konvinse (M4)
Social media is becoming increasingly ubiquitous in both personal and professional aspects of everyday life. Accordingly, members of today’s biomedical community are using social media to share journal articles, provide live updates from conferences, circulate information about career opportunities, and discuss thoughts and opinions about the latest research. Over the last few years, physician-scientist trainees have also found each other virtually and built a community using the hashtags #DoubleDocs, #MDPhD, #PhysicianScientist, and others. Twitter, in particular, has become a platform to celebrate career victories and support each other during the more challenging times in our training. We congratulate one another for every completed exam, every successful experiment, and every grant and paper submission, resubmission and acceptance. We offer words of comfort and encouragement after difficult patient encounters, when the hierarchy of medicine is overbearing, and when manuscripts are rejected. However, social media can also be an intimidating and isolating place. People frequently display their best selves online which leads to the tendency to judge yourself against the cherry-picked successes of others. Additionally, we live in a world where public figures who espouse anti-science rhetoric have millions of followers. So, as a #DoubleDoc-in-training, when I first decided to create an academic Twitter account, I gave considerable thought to how I would make this unreferenced, unfiltered, and non-peer-reviewed world of rapidly spreading ideas work best for me.
Choose your purpose.
First, I decided on the purpose of my accounts. Were these accounts personal or professional? If my account had more of an academic focus, was my primary goal to connect with other physician-scientist trainees, to promote my science, or to advocate against health inequities or pseudoscience? Obviously, the purpose of your accounts is flexible and can evolve over time. My Facebook account consists mostly of personal vacation and family pictures. Even so, I still used the platform to share a news article about a publication and my PhD defense pictures with the hope that someone from my rural hometown will see the posts and believe that they too can pursue a career in science. My Twitter account has an academic focus, but that doesn’t mean the account is without opinions or sass especially where topics such as vaccination and health care for immigrant families are concerned. Deciding on the overall purpose for your social media platform early in the process allows you to build your scientific brand and helps you decide where to focus your time.
Some bias is okay.
Next, I decided that in order to maintain my wellness, my social media network would be biased. As a general rule, I follow clinicians and scientists. I don’t follow politicians or celebrities. I follow people who are kind, optimistic, and supportive. Whenever trainees ask my advice on choosing a school, I recommend picking an institution with mentors who are “who they want to be when they grow up.” I use the same philosophy when deciding who to follow on Twitter. I feel written words deeply. Reading an early morning post about a rewarding patient interaction or a new translational discovery can make my day. So, I follow people who inspire me, focus on humanity in medicine, advocate for their patients, and are passionate about science. Does this approach to social media bias and shrink my bubble? Absolutely. Does it help me preserve my sanity? Yes, it does that too. I consciously made that decision when I made my account. I use Twitter to remind me of why I went into medicine and to keep up with the latest scientific discoveries, not to keep up with the latest world news.
Be a good social media citizen.
Finally, I try to be a good social media citizen. When I follow department chairs, I am thrilled if they decide to follow me back. Therefore, when an undergrad interested in pursuing a career as a physician-scientist messages me, I always respond. Social media levels the hierarchy between attendings and medical students, doctors and nurses, Nobel Laureates and laboratory technicians. Everyone gets to talk and has the same number of characters to do so. However, what you say lasts forever. Be respectful. Don’t say anything online that you wouldn’t say in person. If someone is rude to you, don’t be afraid to stop replying or block the account. Know when you need to walk away to preserve your wellness. Personally, I have taken month-long social media breaks and returned excited to reengage. For me, it helps to remember that there is a person behind every Twitter handle (well, the non-bot ones, anyway). I use the platform to make real connections. On the residency interview trail, I have experienced several “in real life” meetings with residents and faculty I “met” on Twitter or LinkedIn. These connections started in-person conversations that opened doors for my professional growth and development. As an aspiring #Tweetatrician #DoubleDoc, social media has given me not only a voice of my own, but also the opportunity to hear the voices of others.