Digital ones, that is.

Last month I was the co-moderator for a postgraduate course on technology during the annual American Burn Association conference; I previously shared my presentation on blogs and personal learning networks (and this week failed my own advice to post regularly).  We had some great presentations on a variety of aspects of using technology for professional networking and for patient care; questions on Day 1 were almost uniformly about social media and navigating the challenges of having a significant social media presence and maintaining a professional persona.

I know that many people, physicians in particular, shy away from having a significant digital presence because of concerns about interactions with patients and families.  There is also the issue of how professionalism is defined in the social media world- does “I know it when I see it” still hold?  And who gets to decide if something is “professional” or not?  I have been told by colleagues that their institutions essentially forbid them from having any online presence that can be connected to them.  And of course, people often hold on to what is a delusional hope of having separate personal and professional presence (hint:  in this day and age, good luck with that).

As far as patients and families go, everyone has to figure out what works for them.  I have some colleagues who have a “no, never” policy about being Facebook friends with patients and families.  My choice on that has been (1) I won’t send them a friend request, and (2) I will only accept friend requests once they are no longer in the acute phase of their care.  So far, this seems to have worked well, and I’m hopeful that since I am both clear and consistent that the effectiveness of this plan will continue.

In terms of professionalism, I suppose I’m honestly grateful for two things.  First, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram weren’t a “thing” when I was in college- and that’s probably good.  Those Party Pics from mixers and date parties are quite enough in retrospect.  I’m not saying I was wild (I wasn’t), but our judgment at 20 and judgment at 40-something are quite different.  Second, I lead what amounts to a boring life, at least if you’re in search of something incriminating.  My current Facebook profile photo is me with Santa and Mrs. Claus at Mile 8 of a half-marathon last December.

Santa & Mrs. Claus, Mile 8.
Santa & Mrs. Claus, Mile 8.

If you dig, you can find this:

Michigan 3-day with our flamingo walker-stalker
Michigan 3-day with our flamingo walker-stalker

Scandalous, right?  And while I’m certain there are people out there who would argue these aren’t professional, I would argue that there is nothing questionable about either- and that if anything, they deliver the message that I don’t take my life or myself too seriously.

Quite honestly for me, there is the added angle of being an educator who is expected to be a role model for my students and residents…something I admit that I get right most of the time, and something that I can get wrong too (because I am human, after all).  However, I like to think that I am showing them in the public domain how to life an authentic and joy-filled life that’s not all about surgery all the time.

Because, you know, it’s not.

Happy weekend friends!  Think of me running 13.1 miles in the morning and send thoughts for no rain until after 930 am Mountain time and strong feet and legs.

3 thoughts on “Footprints

  1. I appreciate what a great role model you are as a surgeon-educator using social media. Far too often, physician organization and hospitals default to the safest policy and advise against individual physicians from utilizing social media. Thanks to your advice, I just started using Twitter to communicate with the medical students and fellows on my burn service daily to find out what they have learned at the end of each day so even on days when I am not physically in the burn unit, I can keep tabs on their learning progress.

    It does not benefit physicians to hide their hands in the sand and ignore the power of this media outlets. An individual physician can perhaps see 10-25 patients locally in a single day. Through a Facebook posting or a Tweet, they can reach out to a national or even international audience of hundreds to thousands.

    1. Philip, I would love to hear more about your experiences connecting with your learners via Twitter. This is a great innovative use of #SoMe for education!

      1. I started using Twitter as a means to keep in touch with the medical students on the burn service even when I wasn’t the acting attending that day. Having the medical students and fellows use Twitter instead of phone text messaging “forces” them to become comfortable with Tweeting and provides a virtual connection even when I am not physically rounding on the service.