• Sara & Colin Taylor

Social Media & Physician Wellness

The topic of social media and how it relates to physician wellness is pressing to us, given the impact social media can have on us as physicians, on us as humans, and in particular, what we've been observing on Twitter as of late. We know not everyone who reads this is on social media, but we suspect many of you are, or are watching the unfolding of social media as it pertains to your life and are interested in this topic.


Just to give you a bit of background on our experience, and why we're drawn to talk about this, Sara started a blog in 2013 and as part of it, entered the world of social media around that time, namely with a focus on Twitter. She has spoken to various audiences around social media and professionalism, even at a national level here in Canada. Colin joined Twitter (casually) in 2016 and then we joined together with @docs4docs, for Physicians For Physicians, around that time and didn't really become engaged in it until late 2017, and then eventually entered Instagram. 

All that is to say we've been around the proverbial social media block and have some thoughts on the topic. We can’t comment on Facebook as we’ve stayed relatively clear of it for a variety of reasons. We also don’t profess to be experts (who is really?), however, we believe we have an opinion worth sharing on this intersection between social media and physician well-being. For the purposes of our discussion today, we’ll stick to the Twitter arena.

From our perspective, the landscape has evolved over the last few years when it comes to physicians on Twitter. A once reluctant group has given way to some prominent vocal physicians and trainees, advocating on controversial topics such as: gun control, the #MeToo movement, gender/racial equity, vaccines, politics, reproductive rights, pseudoscience, etc. And hey, part of the push for physicians to be on Twitter was to have a voice on topics the public needs an expert opinion on. However…sh*t is getting real and fast!

Lines are getting blurred. Being divisive or trying to be clever can get attention, but maybe in all the wrong places. Twitter is a public domain, and as such, everyone is watching. Everyone. We don't want to come off as too preachy on this so we’ll tone down on the professionalism lecturing! 

The bottom line is that some real life consequences are occurring as a result of things gone wrong for physicians on Twitter: physicians are having false, negative reviews on online rating sites due to their opinions on Twitter; organizations are stepping in to absolve themselves from physicians tweets that work for them; people are reporting physician's Twitter activity to their employer with threats to their career; physicians are receiving vile defamatory direct messages; HIPPA violations are being questioned (in some cases rightfully so); and just the other night we saw a physician saying their family was even being threatened. More than anything, physicians and trainees are sending reminders that a real person is behind the account and the vitriol being spewed is directly impacting their emotional well-being.

Houston we have a problem... and physicians don’t need even a shred more stress.

We’ve considered this problem a lot and it comes down to a few things. First, professionalism online is a safeguard to protecting our mental/emotional/social well-being, so it starts with behaving online just as we would offline in front of a room of patients, stakeholders, colleagues, mentors, family, friends, etc. Seems obvious but maybe not so much when actively spiralling down the social media rabbit hole. Second, the most professional physicians and trainees online will become targets of cyberbullying and attacks from trolls and the like - unfortunately, this is the way of social media. The more notoriety you have, the worse it can potentially be.

So, some concepts we're trying to remain mindful of in our own social media use moving forward include the following:

1. What is our intention? - replaying this question is the main reason we both recently gave up our individual Twitter accounts. Our intention for being on Twitter and Instagram for @docs4docs is much clearer to us.

2. It’s not about the numbers- we often see people trying to reach a certain number of followers on Twitter or helping someone else reach a milestone, but are they engaged followers? The numbers will always fluctuate but who are your true fans?

3. Boundaries- Sara in particular found too much social media consumption was inversely proportional to daily happiness. Setting boundaries around screen time for social media has been very useful.

4. Avoid comparison- it can be tempting to see what others are doing and think it’s a race to keep up, but if we go back to point #1, it all comes back into focus. Social media should be a place for community, sharing, learning and growing - not comparing, striving, disparaging or venting.

The landscape of social media continues to evolve and we just want to remain mindful as to the impact it can have on our overall well-being - some positive, yes, which is why we're on social media; but some negative, which is why we remain vigilant.

“Social media has given us this idea that we should all have a posse of friends when in reality, if we have one or two really good friends, we are lucky.” ~ Brene Brown

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