Articles and Case Studies

Social Media – Not Just a Social Platform

07 Nov 2018

by Dr Nikki Stamp

Social media had humble beginnings, starting as a brain child of technology’s brightest minds.

From the days of Mark Zuckerberg creating Facebook as an online yearbook at Harvard, social media (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and many others) has grown to now encompass billions of users across multiple platforms worldwide. What started as a truly social enterprise, a way to connect with friends and family, has grown to become much more than that.

Traditionally, doctors have been cautioned away from using social media with concerns over professionalism, privacy (of doctors and patients) and standards such as those relating to advertising.1 In recent years though, doctors have taken up social media with great fervour as they see it as much more than social. Rather, it is becoming an increasingly important tool in the modern doctors’ armamentarium. Personally, joining social media in a professional fashion is one of my smartest career moves.

How social media (SoMe) stands to benefit doctors

In the past few years, SoMe has grown as an important networking and education tool. This is particularly evident on Twitter, where users send out ‘tweets’ of 280 characters of less, tagging other users or using hashtags as a kind of online cataloguing system. Linked by common interests or topics, doctors, healthcare professionals and even patients can have structured and unstructured interactions that serve an important role in networking, mentoring, education and collaboration.

In 2015, American general surgical resident Dr Heather Logghe MD first used the hashtag #ILookLikeASurgeon as a way to showcase the diversity in the surgical workforce. The hashtag, tweet and subsequent SoMe campaigns aimed to highlight the oft-heard “you don’t look like a surgeon” often directed at young female surgeons.

This tweet started a strong international and multidisciplinary network of predominantly female surgeons, interested in all the aspects of a surgical career but also social justice, by promoting diversity in our profession. Since that time, over 64 academic journal articles have been published on #ILookLikeASurgeon and countless more on the utility of SoMe. Analysis of data and dedicated study into SoMe shows a few noted benefits.

Luc et al2 published a study on how SoMe has tremendous potential in mentoring. Mentoring is a vital part of career development, a fact the business world has long known. This study demonstrated that particularly for women in surgery, SoMe could connect mentees to mentors with similar interests as well as background, including gender. This is a vital part of the career path of someone who may be a minority in their field. Being able to instantaneously connect with a suitable, matched and engaged mentor, especially if that is not available locally, is a significant strength of SoMe.

Journal clubs have been a longstanding, educational stalwart of medicine. Twitter enables users to participate in a kind of online journal club in the form of tweetchats. These hour-long interactions enable users to discuss a topic or journal article, often in a multidisciplinary fashion. Successful regularly held tweetchats include lung cancer social media (#lcsm), breast cancer (#bcsm), healthcare leadership (#hlcdr) International General Surgery Journal Club (#IGSJC), and academic surgery and cardiothoracic (#tssmn). Chats often include world leaders and paper authors, a phenomenon usually available at international conferences.

Collaboration on research or academia lends itself well to social media.3 Using SoMe can enable international, multi-centred collaboration in academic circles. With the initial connections made online, coupled with near-instantaneous information exchange, creating and writing projects is far easier than old styles of sending contributions, corrections and revisions back and forth between authors. The ability to connect with collaborators who are world leaders, and perhaps even recruit study participants in the future, will benefit strongly from the instant and broad connectivity that SoMe offers.

During the inception of #ILookLikeASurgeon, it was evident that I had ‘met’ online many more women surgeons than I had ever done in my career – these acquaintances have gone on to become supports in my life. They have also given us access to a network of surgeons and other healthcare professionals to whom we can pose a clinical question at any time. To have the equivalent of a noted conference’s expert panel at your fingertips is irreplaceable by other means.

As doctors, we have a duty to contribute to public health through prevention and education of the public. In an age where anyone with a smartphone can declare themselves a health expert, it is incumbent upon us to disseminate high quality information. Since patients will inevitably follow doctors on SoMe, this is not a danger but an opportunity to contribute in a positive fashion to public health.

Using social media responsibly

It goes without saying that if we choose to use social media, either professionally or personally, we still remain doctors. As such, our behaviour is open for scrutiny as it should be with a public that trusts us to maintain standards. Unfortunately, despite common sense, guidelines on usage of SoMe for doctors, and even policies (such as regarding advertising), doctors can be caught behaving in an unprofessional way.

Of the utmost importance is to maintain patient confidentiality at all times. No identifying information should ever be divulged in a way that may allow identification of the patient. The protection of the patient includes avoiding engaging online with your patients or providing medical advice via any electronic means. Social media, while a great tool for health promotion, is never a substitute for the true doctor–patient relationship.

Professional behaviour also extends to the way we talk about and to our colleagues and our employers online. Using social media – even in private groups or chats – to denigrate colleagues, employers or patients is absolutely unacceptable. It’s prudent to remember that once online, your comments are permanent even if they are deleted, and there are significant consequences to yourself and the people you’ve commented on.

The upside

Social media is not going away. And used responsibly, the benefits of social media far outweigh concerns. Like any change or advancement in our profession, we can either take charge of social media and use it well, or be consumed by it. We should use social media because that is where our colleagues are, the knowledge is, and most importantly where our patients are. The adage of old was to ‘publish or perish’ – but not too long in the future, this could become ‘tweet or perish’.

Social media is easily accessible and easily learned for doctors of all ages, backgrounds and specialties, and is an enriching part of our jobs. Social media has enriched my clinical practice, my empathy for patients, and my commitment to public health and social justice.

I would encourage all doctors to join in this communication revolution.

Dr Nikki Stamp (MDA National Member)
Cardiothoracic Surgeon, WA

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See our social media case study: Super Gonorrhoea Exposed on Social Media.


  1. Barlow CJ, Morrison S, Stephens HO, Jenkins E, Bailey MJ, Pilcher D. Unprofessional Behaviour on Social Media by Medical Students. Med J Aust. 2015 Dec 14;203(11):439.
  2. Luc J, Stamp N, Antonoff M. Social Media in the Mentorship and Networking of Physicians: Important role for women in surgical specialties. American Journal of Surgery. 215(4): 752-760. DOI: 10.1016/j.amjsurg.2018.02.011
  3. Logghe HJ, Selby LV2, Boeck MA, Stamp NL, Chuen J, Jones C. The Academic Tweet: Twitter as a Tool to Advance Academic Surgery. Journal of Surgical Research. 2018 Jun;226:viii-xii. DOI: 10.1016/j.jss.2018.03.049

Technology, Anaesthesia, Dermatology, Emergency Medicine, General Practice, Intensive Care Medicine, Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Ophthalmology, Pathology, Psychiatry, Radiology, Sports Medicine, Surgery, Physician, Geriatric Medicine, Cardiology, Plastic And Reconstructive Surgery, Radiation Oncology, Paediatrics, Independent Medical Assessor - IME


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