Embracing Social Media in Academic Medicine

Doctor reading from a digital tablet

[The first in a three-part series exploring the use of social media by medical professionals seeking greater academic impact.]

By Kristina Dzara, Ph.D., M.M.Sc.
July 12, 2017

The choice to engage with—or even embrace—social media is yours. Those who don’t may find that in the near future that it will be a challenge to share information, grow professional networks, and stay on top of relevant literature.

Sample Altmetrics Score Depiction
Sample Altmetrics score

Academic medicine is harnessing the power of social media for networking, professional development, education, and dissemination of information.1 An ever-growing cadre of individuals and organizations in healthcare have Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts, e-newsletters, podcasts and blogs.1-3 In fact, Twitter is the social media of choice for academic medicine.3,4 Although there is debate about professionalism and social media—as well as a concern that we spend too much time using social media without concrete evidence of educational and academic worth—social media has a strong foothold in our community of practice.3,5-7

The journal article remains the gold standard for dissemination of scholarly work. Yet, the publication process continues to be disrupted by new models of publication—prime examples are open access e-journals such as MedEdPortal and MedEdWorld. These advances are symbiotic with social media, especially Twitter. A number of journals have started including author Twitter handles in their publications and encourage tweets about new articles. Several offer a link providing free access to a limited number of readers, to be used for social media dissemination.

Blogs are multipurpose and can allow for the rapid spread of information.2 Blogs are colloquially written, and authors can write without the time and resources required to construct a full-length research article. Blogging can also help authors explore areas of early professional interest to increase familiarity with the topic. Certainly, the content and quality of blogs vary, but studies are being conducted to offer objective, scientific evidence of quality.8 Moreover, some journals, such as Health Affairs and the British Medical Journal, have blogs and encourage participation.

Although traditional journal-based citation metrics such as the impact factor and h-index  remain the standard, researchers are embracing new alternative metrics including usage (views, downloads, clicks), mentions (blog, media coverage), citations (Scopus, Web of Science, Pubmed), and number of tweets and Facebook likes for their own articles to supplement journal impact factors.4,9,10 These and other alternatives, such as the Altmetric Attention Score, are becoming more commonly used in academic medicine.4,9,10 Altmetrics are social-media based, have both a numeric score and a visual depiction of reach, and can objectively measure the impact of articles, webinars, educational videos, and blogs in real time.4,9,10 Although there is some concern that Altmetric scores can be gamed or manipulated, overall they can be utilized as an additional measure which can be triangulated with traditional metrics to gain a more comprehensive portrait of impact.4,5,9,10

The choice to engage with—or even embrace—social media is yours. Those who don’t may find that in the near future that it will be a challenge to share information, grow professional networks, and stay on top of relevant literature. We know that our millennial learners and colleagues have embraced social media, and that the technology which allows us to engage worldwide is expanding by the day. If information truly is power, social media offers us more than we could have ever previously imagined.

Already using Twitter? Be sure to follow HMS Postgraduate Medical Education @HMSPostgradCE.


  1. Chisolm MS. Social Media in Medicine: The Volume that Twitter Built. Int Rev Psychiatry. 2015; 27(2):83-84.
  2. Khadpe J, Joshi N. How to Utilize Blogs for Residency Education. Journal of Graduate Medical Education. 2016; 8(4):605-606.
  3. Gallo T. Twitter is Trending in Academic Medicine. 2017. https://goo.gl/grJz1w.
  4. Chisholm MS. Altmetrics for Medical Educators. Acad Psychiatry. 2016.
  5. Wise J. Promoting Research on Social Media Has Little Impact. BMJ. 2014; 349:g7016.
  6. Choo EK, Ranney ML, Chan TM, et al. Twitter as a Tool for Communication and Knowledge Exchange in Academic Medicine: A Guide for Skeptics and Novices. Med Teach. 2015; 37(5):411-416.
  7. Kesselheim JC, Batra M, Belmonte F, Boland KA, McGregor RS. New Professionalism Challenge in Medical Training: An Exploration of Social Networking. J Grad Med Educ. 2014; 6(1):100-105.
  8. Chan T, Trueger NS, Roland D, Thoma B. Evidence-based Medicine in the Era of Social Media: Scholarly Engagement Through Participation and Online Interaction. Cjem. 2017:1-6.
  9. Handel MJ. Article-level Metrics-It’s Not Just About Citations. J Exp Biol. 2014; 217(Pt 24):4271-4272.
  10. Cress PE. Using Altmetrics and Social Media to Supplement Impact Factor: Maximizing Your Article’s Academic and Societal Impact. Aesthet Surg J. 2014; 34(7):1123-1126.

Kristina Dzara_100x125Kristina Dzara, Ph.D., M.M.Sc. (@KristinaDzara) is a medical educator and researcher with 5+ years of experience in academic medicine. A recent graduate of the Harvard Medical School Master’s in Medical Education program and a Harvard Macy scholar, Kristina’s areas of professional interest include evaluation and assessment, faculty development, and social media in medical education.


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