On Medicine & Media

I was wondering when I would get around to writing this blog and wrapping my thoughts around this topic.  It's touchy, sensitive, and requires a lot of self-reflection (something that takes a lot of effort when you're knee deep in work and would rather just share a picture of your smoothie bowl next to a stethoscope.) I hope this blog post captures my intent to make fun of, but also defend myself and others in medicine who choose to have a presence on social media. We do a lot of funny things but when I take a step back and look at the intentions, I think we're doing good here. 

This new generation of healthcare providers truly is the first to experience entering their careers with a trail of history left behind on their social media accounts. Pre-meds beware, we are advised to change our names and make our accounts private at the following times: applying to college, applying to medical school, applying to residency/fellowship, applying to our first real jobs, and oh, pretty much every important career step in between.  Everything we share can be interpreted poorly, and can be considered unprofessional depending on the viewer. Social media sharing IS the norm, yet we are advised to be very careful and keep things light.

I get it. No one wants to hire someone who is unprofessional, or controversial. But what about those in medicine who wish to connect with others, and share our experiences openly?  We walk a fine line, and at times we're placed under incredible scrutiny. But if we can't speak up and speak honestly in the form of communication that is so prevalent now (i.e., social media) there is no progress.  We should be encouraged to create and foster a supportive community online that allows our peers and those individuals earlier in the career process to learn and grow from what we share.  We should be able to talk about depression, grief, burnout, accomplishments, being type A, being lazy, self care, our passions outside of medicine, etc., without having to worry about how that "looks" to higher ups. And really, sometimes you just need a captivating white coat selfie to talk about more important things :-) 


I started sharing on instagram in 2013, and then started a tumblr, and finally made a real blog just last year.  My initial intentions of starting a "health and medicine" social media account were to connect with like-minded people, share relevant research information that pertained to prevention, and to have somewhat of an online journal that I could look back on.  I had no idea there would be a fairly large group of people that would follow my journey through med school and now residency, and having the opportunity to develop a voice that at times can be influential, has been an incredible and strange experience.  I became somewhat of a mentor and role model without meaning to be, but quickly learned to take that role seriously.  Now, what I put out on social media can indeed affect others. It can inspire some, while making others self conscious.  It can resonate with some, while rubbing others the wrong way.  I am under no obligation to be careful with what I post and to take into consideration how it may make some people feel, but I have every intention to be mindful of this.  There is nothing particularly special about my life in medicine other than my willingness to share it on the internet.

I feel like most medical bloggers start this way. They have a particular interest that they genuinely wish to share/connect with others, and find themselves surrounded by other people online who suddenly have an interest in who they are as a person and their experiences.  Very rarely do I feel that someone started a blog with the intention to make money or just to gain popularity (and if this interests you, please consider the amount of effort it takes and recognize that it's only worth it if you actually have a passion for it). Sure, having a "following" feels good, but that alone is meaningless if it's not improving the lives of others while also helping the person behind the account grow into their role as a professional.  

The number of messages I've gotten regarding how my posts have somehow helped them or influenced them is astounding and humbling. I never imagined that sharing my sub-par MCAT scores and stressful pre-med experience would encourage so many people to go after their dreams, or that sharing my passion for nutritional medicine and prevention could truly make a difference in the health of strangers. But it has. And that's why I keep sharing. On the same account though there are times when I'm so self conscious to share things in fear of judgement from both people online and how people in my real life may react to it (I can't be alone in this.) But in the end everything shared has the intention of good, and I have to remember that. I hope that one day all my time devoted to writing and sharing will have even a bigger influence on the life of my patients and also those in my medical community. That when I share information on how our diet can revolutionize our health, about how self-care and uprooting the medical system is essential to saving it, about how mental health is not a taboo subject for doctors, just maybe I can keep making the world a better place by sharing my passion to an audience. 


We are in such an incredible micro-niche on the world wide web: people in healthcare (or people studying to have a career in healthcare) sharing their experiences on little squares of instagram and the occasional blog. No one is or should be "famous" here.  As the community grows and more and more people develop a social media "presence" I worry about the glamorization of medicine.  That instead of sharing real life, there will be pressure to share a perfect life. I already see it in myself and others-- I'm hesitant to share the bad days and negativity sometimes because that's not beautiful or inspiring. I'd rather show the easy-going clinic week (when my white coat and hair and lunch is on point) than the version of me in tears at 11:30pm on a Wednesday night because I'm afraid I may have unintentionally hurt a patient.  I am so sorry to anyone I have made believe that my life is what it isn't.

No one is obligated to share everything or anything. But I do feel that whatever we put out there, should be honest.  The ugly side of social media is the constant opportunity for comparison; younger vulnerable people looking up to us may anticipate that once they finish their training and have all the accolades, they will be happy and life will be perfect. Our peers looking at social media posts can easily wonder how one seemingly "has it all together." We all know that's not true, but it doesn't make comparison less likely.  At the same time, sharing things just for the sake of being relatable or vulnerable with the hope of getting more attention isn't cool either. The best thing we can do is to share anything that feels well within us-- that is truthful and captures how we're really doing, that expresses something we believe in. Of course, well-lit flat lays of my whole foods brown box next to my board prep books is totally something I believe in :-P (no really, it's my happy place.)


I'm the first to admit that I'm truly obsessed with a certain popular scrub company, and that they send me free stuff. And other companies send me pretty stethoscopes, and food companies send me goodies, and if I wanted to (I don't) I could earn commission from sales by sharing pictures of pretty watches and jewelry and skin care products and blah blah blah. I'm torn between thinking it's awesome that med students with no income can make a little side cash from simply blogging/sharing these affiliate links, and believing that we're just part of one giant scheme to make companies money and we're being used in the process. Additionally, it becomes so TRENDY to wear this stuff and/or there's this pressure to also be "cool enough" to get it sent to you for free. 

You are under no obligation to wear or buy or express the same thoughts as someone else. If you like something, share it. If you don't like it, say so (or simply don't share it.) And damn it, if it was sent for free or you're being paid to talk about it, SAY SO. Likewise, if there's a popular opinion in medicine that you simply don't share, it's ok to speak up (or opt out from sharing at all.)


There is limited free time for pretty much all of us, and our "real life people" should get priority. I feel like most people are pretty good about this, but if you feel guilt about not getting back to strangers' messages or emails (or you've sent a message/email and upset you haven't gotten a response back) let's remember that we have a very real life right in front of us.  Right now as I type this blog that is very important to me, I remember that it will be done once my husband wakes up. That I won't miss a brunch date because I think  blogging should take priority.  

I've been in that place before, so sucked in to keeping up with the Jones's on social media that I neglected to use my free time appropriately for those that matter most. I was busy capturing the perfect picture or commenting on everyone else's posts to stay relevant and develop my voice. But to what end? I had to make a transition to using my presence here as a form of therapy/development/joy, rather than an obligation that interfered with my relationships.  Read this, then get off media. (that was a note to all of you and also myself.) 


Above all else though, as is true for our entire life, our main responsibility is to our patients. I mean this in several ways-- if your engagement on social media interferes with your patient care, I can't support that. Likewise, if there is even the smallest glimmer of breaking patient privacy-- I will be livid and will call you out. We all want to share with the world these interesting CTs or X-rays, or EKGs, or unique physical exam findings.. but these are a patient's (a real live person's) personal information!! Why would it be ok to share it for an audience to see, regardless of seemingly complete anonymity? How weirded out would you be if you stumbled upon your own doctor's social media account and they were explaining a clinical scenario, some sort of imaging study, and the person they were talking about was YOU? Personally, I'd feel violated and used.  With everything we share here, take one step back and pretend you're the patient who is intrinsically in a vulnerable state. I think then you'll always do the right thing.  

Because really, what's the point with sharing our experiences, of connecting with others around the globe, if we're doing a poor job in caring for patients? For a little gain in likes and following at the expense of someone who has put their trust in us? Not cool. We're better than that.


We need more honesty, more genuine passion, more connection. Less competition, less rat race to media success, less worry about making a profit. You have the opportunity to work in one of the most difficult yet rewarding careers in the world-- let's all try to be there for each other and stop caring so much about the small stuff. The social media world, even in medicine, has its fair number of keyboard warriors hiding behind a screen and saying mean things to those trying to do good.  We are better than that, so lets act like it.

Oh and one more thing-- more white coat selfies. Don't let the haters bring you down. I see you, and you're rockin it :-P


Shanny DO