Featured, Opinions
comments 4

Should Medical Students Be Using Twitter?


Is it worth a medical student’s precious time to be tweeting? Don’t we waste enough time on Facebook and Instagram? Is it just another platform where we can get criticized for lack of professionalism? All of these are important questions to be asking. I learned over time that Twitter could be used as a powerful tool for the eager medical student, if used correctly. Here’s how:

First, you need to build a network of high quality medicine-related Twitter feeds. I believe the first mistake medical students make on Twitter is following popular, but less useful feeds, such as medical journal feeds. As a medical student, I do not find it useful reading journal articles on-the-go and, to be honest, this is not Twitter’s strength and not something it should be used for routinely. In order to help you build a solid network, I have provided at the end of this piece a short list of my recommended medical education Twitter feeds to follow. These feeds offer a nice variety to your medical network and include top medical blogs, opinion pieces, medical perspectives, study tools and influential leaders in health care who know how to use Twitter.

Once you have built your network, you now have an amalgamated stream of high quality medicine-related feeds at your fingertips, rather than bouncing from website to website to search for news stories. This is the biggest advantage of using Twitter. In one convenient location, I can search at my choosing any number of articles from this list. This saves me time trying to find relevant news to read. There are different feeds available with unique professional perspectives and feeds tailored to different medical specialties. I try to read one to two articles a day that interest me and stay up-to-date on current medical events and daily news. This allows me to expand my medical knowledge with what is often not taught in the classroom or found on local news websites.

Moreover, one tool in Twitter to easily access information is the hashtag (word or phrase preceded by the pound, #, sign).  You can search a specific hashtag to read articles dealing with a specific topic. For example, the anti-vaccine movement or the current end-of-life discussion are two hot topics currently in the media which can be searched via #antivax and #endoflife. You can see what patients or parents are talking about and where they get their information or misinformation. By staying up-to-date, medical students can educate patients, correct misinformation and direct patients to high quality articles to provide the best care.

You can search for different hashtags based on your medical interests. I have found using the hashtag #meded for medical education is particularly helpful. It is a great resource for news, networking, independent learning and teaching. For me, #meded is a way to search and share potentially interesting news stories with my medical network of followers.

Some students use Twitter as a study aid. For example, using the hashtag #USMLE, students can ask and answer questions through tweets. Physicians and other health care professionals can join in as well by easily accessing the tweets through the hashtag. Certain feeds, such as @Radiopaedia, provide easily accessible radiology images to quickly view at your convenience and are good study tools. While these are just two examples of using Twitter as a potential study aid, they represent many more such as #FOAMed, which stands for free open access medical education.

As you become more advanced, you can start following health care conference specific hashtags to stay up to date in real time on different conference discussions. For example, the Canadian Medical Association 2014 General Council Conference in Ottawa used the hashtag #CMAgc to promote the conference’s discussion on pertinent issues facing the Canadian health care system (3,110 tweets were sent using the hashtag). A tweet from a medical conference may point hundreds of people to information they never would have found on their own.

If patient advocacy is an interest of yours, Twitter can be used as a platform for discussing medical issues, debating and gathering public opinion. It can provide a transparent platform to advocate for a public cause directed at politicians, industry leaders or pharmaceutical companies. It can also be used to facilitate communication between specialists in developing countries where specific expertise is not available locally.

I have found that many medical students may not know of the above mentioned advantages of using Twitter. This, combined with a general hesitancy surrounding a concern for professionalism, has led to limited use of Twitter among students.

Regarding professionalism: you must remember that as a medical student, you are held to a higher standard than the general public or celebrities. What you tweet is your online footprint and can be read by residency committees, patients and can compromise the public’s perception of the medical field. For those interested, there are published guidelines available on social media professionalism that provides information on how medical students should conduct themselves in the public eye.

Here’s what I recommend for new or beginner users. First, create different ‘lists’ to filter your feed to separate personal and medicine feeds. This can help separate the social from the medical networks. Second, don’t feel pressured to tweet. In fact, you don’t need to tweet at all. Just observe, and read. Take time to learn Twitter etiquette and don’t feel obliged to follow users back.

I encourage you to create a Twitter profile or upgrade an existing one for medical education purposes. Twitter has the potential to be used  differently compared to other social media platforms. It can be a productive, useful resource in the medical students armamentarium. I use it all the time. Try it. It’s fun. It’s productive. It’s growing. So, don’t miss out.

Recommended Twitter feeds to follow:

Dr. Kevin Pho (@kevinmd)

Andre Picard (@picardonhealth)

USMLE (@master_usmle)

Healthy Debate (@HealthyDebate)

MedEd Chat (MedEdChat)

2 Minute Medicine (@2minmed)

Dr. Chris Simpson (@Dr_ChrisSimpson)

Dr. Jalali (@ARJalali)

Andrew Micieli (@medstudent_blog)

Andrew Micieli Andrew Micieli (2 Posts)

Contributing Writer Emeritus

University of Ottawa Faculty of Medicine

Andrew grew up in Vaughan ON and completed his undergrad and business masters degree at the University of Toronto. He is currently a medical student at the University of Ottawa. His research focuses on decision analytic models to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of health technologies. Follow him on Twitter, @medstudent_blog, for up-to-date medical news relevant to medical students.