An Education Purpose for Social Media in Medicine

[The second 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.
August 3, 2017

“Importantly, the choice to use social media must be made purposefully.”

As the number of millennials in medical school, residency and fellowship programs, and in faculty and leadership grows, the use of social media will become more common as a way to reach and engage with learners. When effectively designed, social media does have an educational purpose, offering an opportunity to engage our millennial learners and tap into their technological savvy. As educators, we would be remiss not to utilize various social media platforms to further engage with our learners and provide another context for them to transfer and deepen their learning.

Importantly, the choice to use social media must be made purposefully. When optimized, social media aligns with principles of both cognitive science and adult learning theory [Figure 1]. Adult learners desire relevant, timely, and useful information and learn better when they can positively transfer knowledge, skills, and understanding from one context to another.1,2 An example could include residents participating in a series of online journal clubs and then developing and cultivating a residency-program Twitter account to communicate with peers. Additionally, reflection upon educational experiences can deepen learning. Reflection could be encouraged by asking learners to anonymously post about a recent educational experience on a backchannel chat platform, such as Today’s Meet,3 and then comment on another learner’s post. Notably, both of these educational activities would allow the teacher to assess the learner at the ‘does’ level, which is increasingly more important in the age of competency-based medical education.

Figure 1.

Infographic depiciting learning theory and cognitive science merging with social media.

However, it is essential that educators also consider the potential unintended consequences of social media when used to supplement or replace a more traditional curriculum.4,5 Learners must maintain their professionalism online and follow organizational guidelines and HIPAA standards. There is also concern that social media and online resources are of inconsistent quality. Scholars are now investigating how we might best determine the quality of Free Open Access Medical Education (#FOAMed) resources including blogs, websites, and podcasts.6,7

In my last post, I considered why we should embrace social media in academic medicine. In addition to the many professional benefits, social media has numerous educational implications. Below, I offer three ways social media can be applied to medical education:

  1. Tweet chats and online journal clubs:
    Twitter has become popular in academic medicine, and in some cases, may offer advantages compared to more traditional educational activities.8,9 Both tweet chats and online journal clubs can be delivered synchronously (occurring at the same time as a scheduled learning activity) or asynchronously (not occurring at the same time) and offer learners the opportunity to engage in scholarly debate and reflection online. The flipped classroom—where content is introduced prior to the class session and class time is for knowledge assimilation—is an example of how tweet chats and journal clubs might be utilized as part of a broader curriculum.10 Having taken place before an in-person class session, either would situate the learner in the day’s problem space.10
  2. Podcasts:
    Podcasts allow for streamlined content related to topics interesting to learners in various fields, including medical education. One of my personal favorites is the scholarly KeyLIME Podcast (#KeyLIMEPodcast) which offers “…the main points of a medical education article in just 20 minutes.”11 This is a prime example of leveraging technology and social media to support either self-directed or instructor-led learning. New information delivered to learners in this format has the potential to expand existing knowledge bases and encourage critical thinking.
  3. Blogs:
    Writing for an academic or organizational blog can be used to explore topics of interest or reflect on educational and clinical experiences.12 Writing a blog post may be a helpful exercise for trainees with limited writing and research experience. Some journals—such as Health Affairs and BMJ—have blogs and encourage guest authorship. Moreover, writing for a blog offers learners an opportunity to engage in online educational scholarship, gain academic confidence, and grow their CV’s.

[Read part one of this series: Embracing Social Media in Academic Medicine]

Harvard Medical School Postgraduate Medical Education has blogging opportunities
available for credentialed health professionals.

Learn more about submitting a blog post to Lean Forward.

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


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  3. TodaysMeet LLC. What is Today’s Meet? 2017.
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  7. Lin M, Joshi N, Grock A, et al. Approved Instructional Resources Series: A National Initiative to Identify Quality Emergency Medicine Blog and Podcast Content for Resident Education. J Grad Med Educ. 2016; 8(2):219-225.
  8. Mehta N, Flickinger T. The times they are a-changin’: academia, social media and the JGIM Twitter Journal Club. J Gen Intern Med. 2014; 29(10):1317-1318.
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  11. Frank JR, Snell L, Sherbino J. KeyLIME – Key Literature in Medical Education. 2017.
  12. Khadpe J, Joshi N. How to Utilize Blogs for Residency Education. J Grad Med Educ. 2016; 8(4):605-606.


2 thoughts on “An Education Purpose for Social Media in Medicine

  1. Hello! This method is very effective, it helps many students in the field of medicine. A method that uses and has a positive result.

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