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Do's and Don'ts of Social Media for Surgeons, According to Research

By Tim Callahan13 Apr 2022

Facebook. Twitter. Instagram. LinkedIn. ResearchGate. Tiktok. YouTube.

Whether you love it or hate it, social media is a daily part of most people’s lives. And it only continues to grow. Fortunately, you don’t need to be a viral sensation to make the most out of social media as a surgeon.

Here’s what the research has to say about surgeons harnessing the power of social media.

Sharing Information and Networking

Social media offers great benefits, such as the speed and distance over which it can spread information. Increasingly, social media plays a dramatic and ever-evolving role in research communication: prompting discussions about journal articles, spreading conference news, and sharing new ideas.

Facebook is the most used social media platform in the United States, but Twitter is more popular among surgeons and other medical professionals. It’s the go-to platform for sharing timely news, networking and connecting with others in the industry, and posting updates. Instagram, as a photo-heavy platform, tends to be more used among plastic and aesthetic surgeons or by medical institutions.

Tweeting regularly, interacting with others, and using appropriate hashtags can all help surgeons get their message in front of more people and grow a following.

Participating in Awareness and Advocacy Campaigns

Viral hashtags are powerful tools of communication, and entire online communities can be built around a single word or phrase. For surgeons on social media, two main types of awareness campaigns are of interest: health-related ones and industry-related ones.

Disease-specific campaigns range from national days of awareness to month-long campaigns about broad health topics. They often foster social media commentary from medical professionals, patients, and advocates. This can be a great opportunity for surgeons to participate in a wider medical conversation.  

Other campaigns are surgery-specific. #SoMe4Surgery (which stands for Social Media For Surgery) and #SurgicalResearch are two of the most active surgery-related hashtags on Twitter, prompting important conversations around surgical research, medical mentorship, and collaboration.

The #NYerORCoverChallenge, which was started by endocrine surgeon Dr. Susan Pitt in 2017, challenged female surgeons to re-create a cover image from The New Yorker. The campaign continues to bring considerable attention to the role of women as surgeons. Other popular hashtags like #ILookLikeASurgeon, and #MedBikini also center on gender equality and diversity in surgery.

Connecting with Patients and Setting Boundaries

One of the powers of social media is the ability to connect with anyone, anywhere. But for surgeons and other medical professionals, it’s crucial to not blur the boundaries between professional and personal relationships.

There are a few things surgeons can consider in their social media behavior, related to professional boundaries. Connecting with patients, like following them or accepting ‘friend requests,’ can cause issues. Obviously, medical advice should be kept general, rather than specific to an individual, and it may be helpful to include a disclaimer in the profile bio that the poster’s opinions are their own.

And of course, as always, any anecdotes that are shared online should be examined for identifying details to protect patient privacy and confidentiality.  

Maintaining a Professional Reputation

The foundation of success on social media is maintaining professional behavior. It is wise to assume that nothing is private: any content posted could be seen by patients, employers, licensing boards, and the general public.

Many healthcare organizations have specific guidelines and policies about employee-posts on social media. In addition, the American College of Surgeons Committee on Ethics has also published guidelines about the ethical use of social media for surgeons, which outlines how to adhere to the ACS Code of Professional Conduct online and protect everyone involved.  

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