After allowing The Biopsy public exposure and starting a Twitter account for it, I learned one important thing – I wish had done so sooner. The digital age of medicine is upon us and shaping a beneficial online presence is going to be one of the most critical activities a physician can undertake. Physicians, whether they like it or not, will have a de facto online presence due to doctor rating websites. As Dr. Vartabedian so aptly said, “Google is the new CV.”
So what can you, the budding premed, do to grapple with the ever-expanding digital domain? Instead of deleting your social media presence online in a mad rush to cover your tracks during the application season, you could use social media to your advantage. Danielle Jones, at Mind On Medicine, has covered this question in regards to residency interviews, but the concept is applicable to premeds as well. By cultivating a meaningful social media presence, you can impress medical schools and create another substantive activity on your résumé. Here are five reasons why I think every premed should have an online persona:
You learn new ideas fast
Ideas move at the speed of the Twitterverse, which may or may not be faster than the speed of light. Once you’ve connected with other people, your Twitterfeed gets flooded with good ideas, on which you can build new concepts, contrast existing ones, and reflect on your opinions.
Once I started my Twitter account and followed notable movers-and-shakers in the online medical sphere (@AAMCtoday, @drmikesevilla, @kevinmd, just to name a few), I kept receiving more tweets than I knew what to do with. By plugging into this network you’ll start hearing the rumbling of new concepts – concepts that could change medicine’s future – well before anyone else does.
It creates dialogue
Dialogue is part and parcel of an online media presence. If you want to be heard you need to speak up, in 140 characters that is. Twitter is teeming with users debating new ideas that may be applicable to you. Get in on that! Medicine is all about communication so it seems fitting that the internet be a medium of such communication. When you’re debating or agreeing with someone on Facebook Twitter, or your blog, you’ll be participating in valuable dialogue that’s beneficial for all parties.
It helps develop your bearings in medicine
What are you most interested in? Emergency medicine? Medical education? Health information technologies? Have no idea at all? Well that’s okay too. By monitoring Twitter debates, following other medical personas, or reading responses to your blog posts, you’ll get a better picture of what you’re interested in and what you may or may not have a semblance of expertise in. Why is that important? By honing in on what you’re curious about, you’ll develop a stronger sense of what your interests are. That will make your premed path much easier and more focused.
Let’s say Billy is a premed who likes primary care and computers. When he was 14, Billy built his own computer and coded his own applications. In college, Billy started an online persona and found himself contributing to debates in primary care and computers. Reading the responses in both arenas, he found himself drawn towards #HIT (Health Information Technology) more so than #FMRevolution (Family Medicine Revolution) tweets on Twitter. Because of this, Billy went on to develop meaningful opinions about electronic health records and even coded his own health-related mobile app. Billy now has something awesome to put on his medical school application.
Don’t worry if you don’t find your bearings quickly. I’ve been at it for a short while now and I’m still interested in everything! Sooner or later, though, I assume everyone will find their niche.
You’ll mature more quickly
Medical schools are highly concerned with recruiting mature individuals. Once you’ve amassed a modest following on the internet, you’re sure to find people who challenge your ideas. I was initially afraid of this, but it actually is a good thing. You’ll be forced to reflect on your ideas, sometimes even modify them, but don’t think of this as somehow reflecting poorly on you. We premeds are still young and our perspectives are still developing. By exposing your ideas to the public, you’ll be, in a sense, smelting them into stronger convictions indicative of maturation.
In response to the feedback you receive on your thoughts, you’ll become more wary of what you publish on the blogosphere or Twitterverse. Dr. Vertabedian posted an interesting piece on online physician image and its juxtaposition with the traditional clean-cut physician image. Online, we are who we fashion ourselves to be. Thus, if you’re interested in maintaining a professional online persona, you’ll start thinking more professionally. The posts you develop will be more thought out and nuanced. In medicine, physicians always have to be deliberate and cautious with the words they use. By developing a professional online persona, you’ll already have practice in that art, which puts you one step ahead of the competition.
You can easily contribute meaningfully
Unlike research, which takes months, if not years, to come up with valuable results, social media runs on instant gratification. You can contribute meaningfully through various platforms and have instant feedback on how you’re doing. During research conferences, where you need to be someone to be heard, all you need in Twitter is a handle to start sharing ideas. That’s your ticket to jumping in on dialogue and contributing your opinions to the masses. What other avenue is so easily accessible in medicine?
Of course, this is all assuming you’re not an inflammatory individual who tries to provoke incendiary comments. Rational and calm debate is the best way to get ideas across. Furthermore, it’s important that you maintain HIPAA compliance by changing names, genders, locations, or any other kind of identifying information. If you follow these rules, you’re golden.