The Power of Twitter for Health Science Students
Updated: Dec 23, 2020
The world of research is just a microblog away.
Have you ever wondered what the eminent researchers in London or San Francisco think of the latest treatment option? Or ever wondered what the authors of your favourite text think about the latest health fad?
Well, you can find out with a few simple follows via your smartphone. Twitter is a key platform for health practitioners to stay abreast of the latest research and to support them throughout their studies and into their careers as lifelong learners. Our passion for healthcare and improved outcomes for our patients commits us to engage in lifelong learning, so we must ensure that we are giving ourselves every opportunity to expose ourselves to new ideas as part of this learning, and I’d argue that Twitter is a unique communication space to do that.
"Our passion for healthcare and improved outcomes for our patients commits us to engage in lifelong learning, so we must ensure that we are giving ourselves every opportunity to expose ourselves to new ideas"
Social media is leading a fundamental shift in the way we communicate, with health practitioners around the world using the platform in many ways that work for them. I’m well aware that I may be preaching to the converted here as the ever-growing omnipresence of social media surrounds so much of modern society today, and many of you will already be reaping the benefits of social media tools as part of your professional development.
Twitter keeps you updated on the latest research and invites you to challenge social norms
Twitter is one of the top social media platforms that can help health professionals stay abreast of the latest developments in research and clinical practice, encourage contentious debate and challenging issues. It is a must for students and experienced practitioners alike. If you have an interest in health sciences as a clinician, student, educator, researcher or even just for general health interest, then I’d strongly encourage you to download the app to your phone and be part of this growing online community.
With busy work and home lives, it can be easy to stay in our comfort zones. Doing what we’ve been doing for so long, and living within our social and professional bubbles. This is our comfortable space, but it is also space where we limit our ability to expand, grow, or challenge ourselves to develop and really learn.
Twitter connects us to global opportunities
In my own professional career, Twitter has helped me to build a global perspective on ideas and has opened doors to new jobs, to mentors, to new research, to thought leaders, and has helped connect me with clinicians around the world for exciting collaborations - all of which would have been less likely without the exposure and communication enabled through this platform. For others, Twitter is recognised as a place to sense check and build on ideas and has even been used as a collective think tank to write academic papers.
Health researchers have also shown the benefits of social media to include the widening of networks, access to expertise from peers and other health professionals, the provision of valuable emotional support, and the ability to combat feelings of isolation.
Twitter builds our personal and professional brands (as well as research profile!)
Putting your ideas out there is a great way to increase your own exposure build on your professional reputation. Many researchers use the platform to announce new publications and share their work ahead of print, posting links to summaries and full texts, so it’s a great way to stay up with the latest research coming out.
The world of research can be a complicated place, and these conversations are crucial to stay abreast of the latest findings and to help you to remain an evidence-informed practitioner through your career.
In the research world, there has been a
recent drive to ‘get visible or vanish’, replacing the age-old ‘publish or perish’ mentality. Digital innovation through social media applies new technologies to existing practices and problems. This innovation is leading the way in novel approaches to knowledge translation and dissemination to reduce the evidence-practice gap, and we as healthcare practitioners must embrace the opportunities to get visible in our communities and take on our responsibility to reduce the seventeen year lag between research findings making their way into clinical practice.
Health professionals have shown the benefits of social media to include the widening of networks, access to expertise from peers and other health professionals, the provision of valuable emotional support, and the ability to combat feelings of isolation. Whether you’re now embarking on your journey as a health student or an experienced healthcare practitioner, I encourage you to sign up and explore the social media platform. The platform allows you to immediately profile our work, exchange thoughts and ideas, meet new people, and even to connect and engage your clients in health promotion activities[2,3].
Twitter is short and snappy, allowing you to scan content and dip into things that suit your interest area. If an area catches your attention, you can dive deeper, if not you can pass it and don’t waste your time. The deep dive will often give you a plethora of relevant links and signposting to further training and content to support your reflective practice.
If you’re not familiar with Twitter, #hashtags are a great way to follow conversations and get yourself involved in the conversation. Setting up a hashtag is also a useful way to share research between your student groups. Just include the tag in your post with the research or comment and share the tag with your friends to easily find the conversation. Hashtags are also commonly advertised for conferences and seminars to help reach a wider audience to foster local and global discussion. Although it will never replace being that the event in person, they are a great way to follow along if you can’t make the event in person and you will often get clinically relevant snapshots on cutting edge topics with links to further reading.
A word of caution
Having mentioned a few of the benefits of the platform, as with anything online, it’s sensible to proceed with some caution. It’s well known in any community network that birds of a feather flock together. It is easy to surround yourself in an echo chamber of thoughts, so I encourage you to connect yourself with a range of brains from around the world that may challenge your own beliefs and expectations, and use the platform as a ladder to help you rise out of your local silo and broaden your outlook. Respectful debate only helps to strengthen and refine our ideas and improve our clinical practice.
Be mindful that professional standards do not change in the social media world. Depending on how you choose to use the tool, Twitter can be a mix of personal and professional conversations. Some argue this adds humanism and personality to the conversation, with others cautioning against confusing the profiles intent. However you choose to use it, upholding your ethical and professional principles as a student or graduate practitioner is key to maintaining public trust in you as a clinician and the profession you represent. Social media can raise ethical challenges and can risk the blurring of professional boundaries, so be careful not to offer direct clinical advice to patients and stay professional in your conversation.
As with any platform, there are pros and cons to consider. You will need to be open to new ideas while keeping your critical eye out to make sure what your reading has validity for you as a clinician and steer well clear of unproductive criticism or social media points scoring that you’ll undoubtedly find some indulging themselves in.
Find the way that works for you. Some people enjoy Twitter as passive observers of conversation, others selectively jump in and out of conversations as their time allows, and others seem to be at a near-constant professional chatter. Some use the platform as a personal blog to save useful information and research, while others use the
platform to create contentious debate.
Whatever your preference, there is a place for everyone on Twitter to engage and support your professional development - just take a little time to make it work for you.
You’ll see many infographics on Twitter. Infographics can be a great way to summarise complex topics, they are commonly produced to help disseminate research summaries. Relevant to this blog, Yann Le Meur’s infographic nicely summarises the work of Ahmed et al. outlining tips for social media use.
Where to get started
There are many amazing minds to follow on Twitter, but if you have similar interests to me (in the world of pain science and musculoskeletal rehabilitation) and you’re not sure who to follow, there are a few standouts that I’d highly recommend to get you started here (my top 50). You can also find a list of current and former academic staff from the Torrens University health sciences team here.
I'd also recommend the work of Dan Quintana. His open access e-book 'Twitter for Scientists' is an excellent guide to using the platform. The resource describes many benefits of the platform, takes you through the basics of using Twitter, and even includes a 20-step guide to get you going.
I hope this blog has given those not yet on the platform something to think about. The platform has helped me as a clinician, educator and researcher.
I challenge you to give the platform a try and expand your virtual horizon!
Hope to see you in the Twittersphere...
@Trevail on Twitter
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Knight, E., Werstine, R., Rasmussen-Pennington, D., Fitzsimmons, D., Petrella, R. (2015) Physical Therapy 2.0: Leveraging Social Media to Engage Patients in Rehabilitation and Health Promotion, Physical Therapy, Volume 95, Issue 3, 1 March 2015, pp. 389–396, https://doi.org/10.2522/ptj.20130432
Maloney, S., Moss, A. & Ilic, D. (2014) Social media in health professional education: a student perspective on user levels and prospective applications. Advances in Health Science Education 19: p. 687. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10459-014-9495-7
Pereira, I., Cunningham, A. M., Moreau, K., Sherbino, J., & Jalali, A. (2015). Thou shalt not tweet unprofessionally: An appreciative inquiry into the professional use of social media. Postgraduate Medical Journal, 91(1080), 561–564. https://doi.org/10.1136/postgradmedj-2015-133353
Joanne Doyle & Michael Cuthill (2015) Does ‘get visible or vanish’ herald the end of ‘publish or perish’?, Higher Education Research & Development, 34:3, 671-674, DOI: 10.1080/07294360.2015.1025467
Barton, C. J., & Merolli, M. A. (2017). It is time to replace publish or perish with get visible or vanish: Opportunities where digital and social media can reshape knowledge translation. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 1–6. https://doi.org/10.1136/bjsports-2017-098367
7. Morris, Z. S., Wooding, S., & Grant, J. (2011). The answer is 17 years, what is the question: understanding time lags in translational research. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 104(12), 510–520. https://doi.org/10.1258/jrsm.2011.110180
Ahmed, O. H., Weiler, R., Schneiders, A. G., McCrory, P., & Sullivan, S. J. (2015). Top tips for social media use in sports and exercise medicine: doing the right thing in the digital age. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 49(14), 909–910. https://doi.org/10.1136/bjsports-2014-094395
Quintana, D.S. (2020). Twitter for Scientists [eBook edition]. Retrieved from https://t4scientists.com/. DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.3707741
Images ref: Unsplash.com