Getting over the fear of trying something new: My journey into social media

13 Feb 2019

By: Lillian Erdahl

Social media is a part of my professional career and identity as a surgeon. Because of this, I spend a fair amount of time both informally and formally discussing professional social media with physicians and other healthcare workers. People view me as an expert and often seek my opinion on how and why to use social media in their careers. They turn to me for advice on how to receive information via various platforms as well as how to disseminate it. It turns out that in order to become an expert at something, you have start as a novice and remember that you never stop learning.

Being a novice is a universal human experience. At some point we all had to learn basic things like how to eat or walk. Developing new skills requires taking chances and inevitably failing before we master them. From my experience as a surgery resident, I understand the fear of failing when learning new skills. I also know that I must be willing to get up and get back in the ring even after failing. My past experiences as a novice help me whenever I start something new. When I first embarked on learning to use social media professionally, I was unsure how to start. There were fewer resources ten years ago than there are today.

My first professional social media education came during my graduate courses in Adult Education at the Penn State World Campus. However, much of what I learned did not relate directly to the profession of medicine. I attended the Teaching and Learning with Technology Symposium in State College where danah boyd’s talk on social media inspired me. Seeing the possibilities for this new way of reaching a larger audience, I was interested but nervous about doing more. It took encouragement from someone else with vision, Dr. Rebecca Minter, to give me the push I needed to move forward with learning how social media could be utilized in healthcare. Lacking in knowledge and confidence, I spent much of my time observing and learning the culture of social media platforms used by others in healthcare like Deanna Attai and Diane Radford. Reading blogs, clicking through professional networking sites, and lurking on other platforms I learned a lot about medicine as well as the cultures of different social media sites.

It is uncomfortable being a novice. Just like the first time I took a knife to the skin, posting on social media left me vulnerable to criticism for not meeting the expectations of those observing me. As a surgeon I know that many mistakes cannot be undone. The same is true when posting something on the internet where it can live on forever and be shared with anyone. As a novice, I made mistakes and was graciously aided by so many others who provided an example and gave me tips and tricks for improving my success. It was well worth the journey which has led me to greater involvement in many organizations and professional networks. The next time that you are afraid to try something new, remember that every expert was once a novice.


Lillian Erdahl, MD, FACS is an Assistant Professor of Surgery at the University of Iowa where she practices Breast and General Surgery. She is also Associate Program Director in General Surgery; head of the Iowa City VA Breast Clinic; Communications Director for @UIowa_Surgery; and involved in curriculum development for medical students, residents, and fellows. Her research interests include breast cancer prevention and treatment, faculty development, and surgical education. Her work for gender equity in medicine includes involvement in the Association of Women Surgeons as co-chair of the Twitter subcommittee and the @PROWDWomen group.

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.

One Reply to “Getting over the fear of trying something new: My journey into social media”

  1. Hi Dr. Erdahl, Thanks for your post. I’m working with, n non-profit organization dedicated to the global dialysis access community, offering CME accredited education, and we are exploring expansion to a virtual conference series. I’m realizing that social media is necessary to bring us to a level where we can have real impact on a global scale and connect with physicians who we may miss without social media. Our goal is elevate the level of knowledge of physicians in different geographic areas and also in various specialties, who don’t often see eye-to-eye on how best do get the job done, but inevitable, see the same patient and have the same goal of having the best outcome possible. If you have any additional insights for us as we embark on social media, I would love to connect with you.

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