The compleat social physician

For years I have lectured new medical students at @uOttawamed that the best physician Twitter accounts reflect the whole personality of the individual. I argue that maintaining separate professional and personal accounts has little benefit, creates a false dichotomy and can dilute your voice.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic I noted a growing trend for physicians and others to be more willing to share elements of their own personal life on Twitter in additional to their views on issues.

It’s a trend that has not gone unnoticed both on and off social media.

In a recent interview, CMA president-elect Dr. Alika Lafontaine (@AlikaMD) said this sharing by physicians has been powerfully cathartic. “I’ve never heard so many physicians actually share the pain that they go through day after day. I’m both sad, as I hear the stories, and hopeful, because we’re sharing the lived reality of what we’re going through.

“In supporting colleagues across the country, I’d say keep sharing your story. I hear you, I see you, I feel what you’re going through. The other side of that is figuring out how to take these stories and actually have them impact the thoughts and beliefs of decision makers who create the structures that we work in.”

This perspective contrasts somewhat to views voiced by Drs. Eric Topol and Abraham Verghese (@EricTopol and @Cuttingforstone) in a recent discussion at least when it comes to social media. They made the point that Twitter is not well suited to sharing personal narratives, in large part because of the constraints imposed by the 240 character count on tweets. While it is true that books and other long forms of literature can more completely reflect a person’s story, one should never understimate the ability of smart people to create powerful narratives in just a few words.

I would argue that the most compelling physician Twitter accounts for both their peers and the general population manifest the personality of the person doing the posting. Dr. David Naylor and his dog (@CdavidNaylor), Dr. Brian Goldman and his ruminations on the failings (and very occasional triumphs) of Toronto sports clubs (@NightShiftMD), and the baking adventures of countless other physicians during the pandemic, all come to mind.

The whole issue of physicians maintaining separate personal and professional accounts has recently been given attention by two Canadian physicians @BlairBigham and @sarahfraserMD in a blog post on the BMJ Opinion site.

They argue that while many top medical organizations still recommend that physicians maintain separate personal and professional social media accounts, physicians should “embrace authenticity and reunite their personal and professional selves.”

“In times like these, we must … make a therapeutic relationship with the public to advocate effectively, and the work of advocacy requires revealing our true selves,” they write.  They say this is particularly important when physicians are advocating on public health issues or advocating for social justice.

Recent research suggests the public is more willing to trust pronouncements from individual physicians than professional organizations on issues relating to COVID-19 and surely trust can only be strengthened when the physician posting can clearly be seen as an individual.

Of course, imbuing your Twitter account with personality entails risk and physicians must think hard about how much they are wiling to share. Many draw the line at posting anything about their family on Twitter and this can confer a degree of security against trolls or worse.

And the call to maintain one Twitter account that reflects your whole personality does not mean you should do the same on many social media platforms. Physicians should consider which platform works best for them and use them. Many keep Facebook purely for close, personal interactions and use LinkedIn only for career-oriented interactions, and that makes perfect sense.

However when it comes to Twitter at least, keeping both a personal and professional account can be done but if you want your voice and opinion to count being the whole you makes a lot of sense. And when it comes to professional behavior, the same rules apply no matter which account identifies you.

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1 thought on “The compleat social physician

  1. Great piece!! What does compleat mean?

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