Thursday, 5 January 2012

Thoughts on Twitter

I appear to have updated more than usual in the past few weeks. You may blame the uni holidays, and also the fact that I really ought to be doing some preparatory reading for my next placement and thus of course absolutely anything else in the world seems more interesting and appealing than what I should be doing.

It will come as little surprise to most of you to learn that I am a huge fan of Twitter. I joined initially because I thought it might be fun to follow some of my favourite "celebrities" on there (Stephen Fry mentioned it a lot in his podcasts). Having joined, I discovered some of my friends had accounts and thought it was worth following them. As a lot of my friends are medics (quelle surprise...) I soon found myself connecting with medical students and doctors around the UK and indeed the world. Now, this is great. I get to chat to people who are experts in their field. I can compare notes with students at other unis. If I have a question, I can "Tweet" it and most of the time I have a reliable answer in minutes. All of this is fantastic, not to mention that I have made some lovely friends who I probably wouldn't have met any other way. Recently, however, I have started to have a few concerns about how I use Twitter.

As a soon-to-be (I hope!) doctor, I have followed with interest recent discussions on various media regarding professional conduct and social networking. My profile is semi-anonymous, in that if you access it you can probably work out who I am, but I don't think you could find it by searching for me directly. I tend to lead a fairly dull and mundane life. The most "unprofessional" behaviour I engage in is the occassional vodka (ok, a few vodkas) once in a blue moon. I don't do anything illegal and I don't think I ever do anything which would make people worry about my suitability as a doctor. At least I hope not. Thus, I am rather unlikely to "reveal" anything on Twitter which isn't common knowledge. On occassion I have been slightly concerned that a jokey comment could be taken out of context and imply something quite different from what I intended, but for those situations there is of course the "delete" button. If I feel that something I've said has caused offence or annoyance I am generally more than happy to apologise and remove the tweet in question. I also have the utmost respect for my collegues, so if it is suggested that I've said something unwise then I'll listen, take down what I've written and try not to say similar in future. My concerns regarding Twitter, then, are not really related to professionalism.

I have recently found myself in something of an interesting situation. Given the vast numbers of people using social media and the ease with which one can find and follow those with similar interests, I have been followed by (and follow) several doctors who work in places I have been on placements or may work in future. As I stated above, I'm not really concerned by this as I don't say anything online that I wouldn't say in person. However, it got me thinking. I have expressed an interest, via Twitter, in several areas of medicine. One of the perks of social media for me is that if I say I'm interested in, say, Urology, a trainee or consultant in that area is fairly likely to contact me and offer advice and encouragement. Where I begin to feel somewhat awkward (that isn't the right word but it's the best I can think of for now) is when people offer to meet up for chats etc. Now, I've met plenty of people from Twitter, some of whom are pretty senior, but it's always been purely social. I'm starting to wonder whether meeting people for what is essentially professional networking is ethical. Should I be interacting with people who might be assessing me in an OSCE in a few months? On the face of it, I don't see a problem. I'm not silly enough to expect special consideration just because someone's read my tweets - if I screw up, I expect to fail. I very much doubt that any of the examiners are unprofessional enough to be swayed by something so trivial. In fact, if they are I should probably feel more guilty about doing extra work, audits etc for various people as they definitely know me fairly well. So what's the problem? Well, I wonder whether I'm gaining an unfair advantage by using Twitter. I'm not sure whether contacting these people and taking them up on their kind offers of tea and mentoring is being assertive and seizing an opportunity or if I'm doing something somehow dishonest. I feel in some ways like I'm "cheating" a bit - after all, not everyone has access to Twitter. Is it fair that I potenitally benefit in my career because I use a medium not available to everyone?

I would be interested to know what other people think. I'm pretty sure that I'm massively overthinking what is actually not a problem at all ("how unusual" I hear you cry!) but none the less it's been on my mind somewhat so I thought it worthy of a blog post.

Hope the New Year is treating you all well xxx

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