I’ve got Twitter on the brain.
Today I’ve been putting the finishing touches on a manuscript describing research I did using Twitter in my Professional Interactions course last year. And I’m gearing up to start a new Twitter project with the same group of students when they go out on their clinical internships starting Monday.
I am passionate about using social media in physical therapy education. I believe it is a professional technical competency that all physical therapists should possess. I believe the next generation of health care consumers will demand that providers have a social media presence. I believe it gives us the opportunity to share our profession with the world and a means to write our own online story. I believe – as Dr. Natasha Burgert said in a recent seminar I attended – that my social media presence gives me the opportunity to amplify positive health care messages and drown out the bad ones. I believe reading social media makes me smarter and more humble. I believe that using social media as a professional makes me a better digital citizen, and that teaching my students to be better digital citizens is part of my job as an academic faculty member.
But sometimes it is hard to convince the nonbelievers.
Make no mistake, while I believe in the power of social media in health care and education, I get that social media isn’t something that everyone enjoys. I do not believe that all “good” health care providers should blog, tweet, and post. In fact, it’s probably a good idea that some of them don’t. I believe there is as much (if not more) value in “lurking” as there is in creating content. And I believe that it is enough for some providers to simply have the knowledge that there are conversations happening online, even if they rarely join those conversations. But, these days, I don’t think ignorance is an option.
Starting next week, I will ask a group of students to use Twitter to talk to me, each other, and the world while on their clinical internships. And about a month later, I will ask a brand new group of physical therapy students to tweet about their new role as a health care professional. You may assume that because these students are young (most are in their mid-20s), that they are social media power users. That they “get” Twitter and are ready to go forth and tweet as health care providers.
You would be wrong.
All of them use social media (mostly Facebook) in their personal lives, but many are still not ready to make the leap to using social media for professional communication. As with any group of people, there are power users who are eager to jump in. But there are also students who are completely uncomfortable with using social media in a professional manner. Some of them are private and don’t want to open a Twitter stream to the world. Some of them don’t yet have the confidence to put their knowledge out there for the Twitterverse to evaluate. And some don’t want to do it because it’s just one more thing to do.
I get it.
But I want them to get that there is a method to my madness. That I’m not just using technology for the sake of it or because I think it’s fun. I want them to understand that I think using social media – whether they tweet or post daily or simply lurk occasionally – will make them better physical therapists. They can build connections and an online community. Reach out to patients and potential patients. Stay up-to-date on the latest health information. They will learn that these forums can provide enormous value, and they may even decide to start providing a little value of their own.
As I’ve spent most of the day reading and writing about social media in health care and education, I opened my Twitter stream and decided to click over to the Millenial Medicine Symposium hash tag (#MMed13) to see what conference-goers think the future holds. There happened to be a discussion on health care social media going on, and one tweet almost perfectly sums up the reason I use social media as a health care professional, and my reason for incorporating Twitter into PT education:
— Brian S. McGowan PhD (@BrianSMcGowan) April 26, 2013
When you participate in social media discussions, your world becomes bigger. You discover new information. You find an online community. You can use group think to solve problems. You gain new perspectives. You learn.
And I would add to Dr. McGowan’s tweet that learning is also influenced by how you concisely share what you are hearing. When you create a professional, thoughtful tweet or post, you’ve learned something in the process. You’ve analyzed information, taken it apart, and put it back together in 140 characters or less. You have grown and you have contributed and you understand that information in a way you never did before.
Health care social media can be an incredibly powerful tool, but it requires an open mind, some old-fashioned intellectual curiosity, and a little fearlessness.
I hope my students will give it a try.