By Jaina Lane & Tishina Tittley
Networking is an important aspect of professional development. In a typical application season, medical students work hard to form connections with attendings, residency program directors, and other medical students in order to find their ideal residency home. Similar skills are needed for residents applying to fellowship, fellows looking for their first jobs, and current attendings looking to move into different and/or more advanced leadership roles. Unfortunately, due to the unforeseen circumstances that COVID-19 has presented to all of us, medical students through junior attendings now struggle with establishing the same professional relationships.
Unable to interact directly with potential colleagues (e.g. current residents/fellows, potential coworkers), they may find it more difficult to assess their proper “fit.” This issue is confounded for many medical students applying this year as they also can’t do away rotations at programs they are most interested in and are missing out on seeing the culture of the program. To help surgeons at all levels of practice and training, we have come up with a few unique ways that trainees and junior attendings can use social media to network with people who share their professional interests, find opportunities to explore their institutions of interest, and ease their journey through the application season and job application cycle.
Best platforms to use
There are a few platforms that are especially helpful to use for networking in medicine. Twitter is extremely popular among physicians in general, but especially among surgeons. They use it to highlight personal and professional accomplishments, share their opinions on hot topics, and educate their followers on a variety of issues. Facebook and Instagram are also good platforms to use to follow residency and fellowship programs, and lately, have been the best place to receive updates on upcoming webinars geared toward medical students in addition to information on virtual grand rounds and potentially virtual subinternship opportunities.
Choosing a handle
So, how are you going to set up your profile? It all starts with a good handle. Keep it simple and as similar to your name as possible, to make you easily recognizable. Avoid anything unprofessional or too complicated to type on a phone. Be conscious that length can matter in a professional tweet, so keep your Twitter handle descriptive but short.
Creating a bio
The next step is creating a bio. Indicate what level of training you are at. Include your current institution and past institutions attended for medical school and residency/fellowship training. If you took year(s) off for research, say where you did it. If you serve in any leadership positions on national committees or organizations, make sure to include it and tag the organization. Finally, you can list areas you’re particularly passionate about as part of your present and future career (diversity, nutrition, public health, global surgery, etc.). Don’t be afraid to get creative with emojis here and there, as long as they are used appropriately (especially on Instagram)–your bio is also a great place to showcase your personality.
A great example:
“MS3 @OhioStateMed | MPH @HarvardChanSPH | Dog mom | Caffeine Connoisseur | Interests are #vascularsurgery #trauma #ballet | She/Her | Opinions are my own.”
Keep in mind you have a 160 character limit!
Picking a profile picture
A good profile pic is a must. The best photo to use for Twitter would be a professional headshot. You could also use a casual photo that is preferably not a selfie. On Instagram, professional photos are less common, but you always want to make sure your pic is appropriate and doesn’t present you in a questionable light.
Who to follow
The big question, who should you follow? An easy way to start is with your classmates and other colleagues at your level. Look for trainees and faculty at your institution you’ve worked with. Another easy way to find people in your specialty of interest is to look at who your mentors and colleagues follow. For people you meet at conferences or on rotations, Twitter could be a good way to stay connected. You may have role models in the field that you don’t know personally but whom you really look up to. Following them could be a great way to establish a connection! Many people are open to receiving DMs or may even privately message you their contact information if you politely ask for their mentorship. Finally, it’s good etiquette to follow people back, using discretion of course.
What to post
While in the professional world, your CV/resume represents who you are, social media can add another dimension. So post things that highlight you! This can include major milestones, like graduating, publishing research, or going to a conference. This can also include hobbies you’re really into, fun activities, and trips. It’s a chance for people to see a fuller picture of who you are, so take advantage of that freedom. Don’t be afraid to share things you feel passionately about, that could include politics, art, music, travel, etc, While some people may fear that posting about political issues could be polarizing and turn off some programs or potential employers, don’t forget that you want to be at a program/institution that is a good fit for you and shares your same values. If a program/institution cannot appreciate your opinions and the person that you are, then that program/institution might not be for you and you won’t have missed out on anything. At the same time, always remember to be respectful and professional on your feed. Your opinions on your feed are your responsibility.
What to share/retweet
Your shares and retweets reflect on others perceptions of you, so share things related to areas you’re passionate about or interested in. On Twitter, your likes and shares are accessible on your profile page, so it’s something to be conscious of. Try to avoid posting or commenting on threads that you’re not that knowledgeable about because you don’t want to be held accountable to defend someone else’s opinions.
How to network
Networking on social media is largely about finding ways to engage with others!
Tweetchats are a great way to do this. A Tweetchat is where a group of Twitter users meet at a predetermined time on an account to discuss a certain topic, using a designated hashtag (#). AWS has a monthly Tweetchat (#AWSChat) that you can participate in, on Mondays at 8pm EST. #FollowFriday is another pretty popular Twitter thread among medical students (#MedStudentTwitter). People introduce themselves, share a hobby or recent event, tag others, and retweet and follow others on a chain! It’s a great way to develop camaraderie and find interesting people to follow. Other great Twitter threads to follow for surgery are: #SurgTwitter #SurgEd #ILookLikeASurgeon #MedTwitter.
Another way to network is to reach out directly through DMs. After you have followed someone on Twitter, a little envelope icon should appear above their bio on their Twitter page. Clicking on that allows you to send them a message directly. Be professional and succinct in your introduction — state your name, level of training, and the reason you are reaching out to them. Then, ask if the best way to contact them is through Twitter, or if they would prefer email. Now you have the ball rolling on a conversion, and can proceed from there!
On Instagram, you can reach out to potential mentors with specific questions by DM’ing them as well. On both Twitter and Instagram people may or may not respond, but many residents and faculty are particularly sensitive to the need for mentors among medical students right now because of the disruptions due to COVID-19. Definitely don’t message people daily if you don’t hear back, but try two or three times and if you don’t hear back, there are plenty of other people to reach out to. While DMing a resident or attending can seem daunting as a medical student, there have been some great mentor-mentee relationships built this way, so don’t be afraid to give it a try!
What not to do
We’d be remiss to not share some not-to-do’s. Please don’t post or share anything inappropriate or with profanity. Make sure you don’t subtweet, which is commenting or criticizing a fellow Twitter user without mentioning them with the @ sign–this is absolutely not the place to burn bridges and people will notice. Do not harass people by messaging or tagging them excessively. If you’re wondering whether you should post something, ask someone or play it safe and don’t post it. Remember, anything that you post publicly can be seen by anyone and is fair game during your interviews for residency, fellowship or a future job. You don’t want your social media engagement to come back and haunt you, so use it wisely but remember to have fun with it as well!
We hope that this guide to networking for student surgeons on social media was helpful to you. Given the disruptions to COVID-19, this might be a great opportunity for you to expand your professional network using the tips we’ve offered, and put yourself in the best positions for the future you’re pursuing.
Jaina Lane is a medical student at the University of Virginia pursuing a career in plastic and reconstructive surgery. As a Bill Gates Millennium Scholar, she attended Harvard University where she studied biochemistry and global health. Her clinical & research interests lie in craniofacial surgery and medical education, and she is committed to promoting diversity inthe field of surgery through mentorship and advocacy. She is the current Diversity & Inclusion Coordinator of the AWS National Medical Student Committee. In her free time, she enjoys her faith community, music, comedy and playing spades. She can be found on Twitter @jainaclane and Instagram @jayclane.
Tishina Tittley is a rising fourth-year medical student at Howard University College of Medicine (HUCM) pursuing a general surgery residency this year. She grew up in the suburbs of Washington, DC and attended Columbia University where she majored in biological sciences. She currently serves as Social Media & Marketing Coordinator of the AWS National Medical Student Committee. Her primary research interests include surgical technology and innovation, surgical outcomes and health disparities. Ultimately, Tishina hopes to pursue a career in surgical oncology or acute critical care. In her free time, she enjoys reading novels, improving her culinary skills, and running outdoors. She can be found on Twitter @TishinaTittley.
Our blog is a forum for our members to speak, and as such, statements made here represent the opinions of the author, and are not necessarily the opinion of the Association of Women Surgeons.