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Social media use at Yale School of Medicine

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2019 - Autumn


Social media has revolutionized the way people communicate and share information. The information bottlenecks of old print and broadcast media have closed or had their influence diminished, for better and for worse, while a world of expertise and information lies at the fingertips of individuals. The new world is filled with people connecting with each other, from high school students like climate activist Greta Thunberg to protest movements in cities the world over.

Many Yale School of Medicine (YSM) faculty members have accounts on social media. They do their part to spread their knowledge and connect like-minded scientists and doctors to one another while simultaneously combatting misinformation.

Naftali Kaminski, MD, the Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, Inc. Professor of Medicine (pulmonary), (@KaminskiMed) got into social media early, and is a big believer in its utility. “I’m usually an early adopter,” he wrote via email, “I use Twitter for medicine, research, and activism. I use Facebook for family and my eclectic interests (music, cinema, art) and sometimes activism.” Kaminski has almost 3,000 Twitter followers, and posts frequently on various issues throughout the day. “For too long, physicians and scientists have hidden from the public eye,” he wrote. “It is our responsibility to be present in the public domain, to share our work, our values, and our views.”

Another YSM faculty member who is active on social media is Akiko Iwasaki, PhD, the Waldemar Von Zedtwitz Professor of Immunobiology, professor of molecular, cellular and developmental biology, and of dermatology, and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. Iwasaki is relatively new to Twitter—she created her account there in 2017, and credits a former colleague, Kellie Jurado, PhD, with helping to coach and mentor her in good habits of use. Now at over 11,000 followers, her handle, @VirusesImmunity, is considered highly influential in her communities of virology and immunology, and she has issued several tweets that have, in contemporary parlance, “gone viral.” She does not use Facebook or LinkedIn frequently, though she maintains accounts there, preferring to focus on Twitter engagements.

Howard Forman, MD, MBA, professor of radiology and biomedical imaging and director of the MD/MBA Program at Yale, is another avid user of social media. His experience is akin to Kaminski’s; a self-described early adopter, he joined Twitter in 2008 but did not become active on it until 2016 (his handle, @thehowie, has over 11,000 followers). “Timewise, I would say that Twitter is the only account that I attend to daily, for between five minutes and two hours of my time,” he wrote in an email.

Forman values Twitter for helping him “hone my positions,” as well as giving him an opportunity to evaluate viewpoints different from his own. He said, “I have developed better skills at expressing my opinions. My skin is much thicker, both on social media and in real life, where I believe I take criticism more easily, particularly when it is offered in good faith.”

He cautions that social media can be dangerous for young professionals. “I think you need to be very wary,” he wrote. “Earlier in one’s career, social media can be risky. If you have direct patient care responsibilities, you have to choose between having a truly public profile on social media or one that is more anonymous. If you choose to be public, which I think is generally preferable, you should consider how patients might respond to you if you are particularly aggressive in your political stances.”

Iwasaki’s advice to faculty interested in creating social media accounts but unfamiliar with the terrain is more optimistic. “Jump in!” she wrote. “Keep in mind that these posts are read by everyone. So, do be careful about the content, and make sure you are not inadvertently leaving out some people or being hurtful to others. The downside of social media is that there are always people who post negative or toxic comments (trolls). The upside is that you can reach thousands of people with words of encouragement and support instantaneously. The pros far outweigh the cons of being on social media. You will reach an audience you never thought possible!”

Other YSM faculty with extensive followings on Twitter include Harlan Krumholz, MD, the Harold H. Hines, Jr. Professor of Medicine (cardiology) and director of the Center for Outcomes Research and Evaluation (CORE), (@hmkyale) who has over 15,000 followers there; and Roy S. Herbst, MD, PhD, the Ensign Professor of Medicine (medical oncology) and professor of pharmacology, (@DrRoyHerbstYale) with over 2,500 followers. Some students and residents have outsize followings on various social media platforms. And many YSM alumni are influential on social media, with some accounts, such as Esther Choo’s, MD ’01 (@choo_ek), boasting nearly 100 thousand followers.

Social media is entrenched in most people’s personal lives, and plays an increasing role in how professionals talk with each other. Many of YSM’s faculty, students, and alumni are involved with the various platforms. Depending on whether one prefers the advice of Iwasaki or Forman, one might decide to “jump in,” or hold off until later in one’s career. There’s no wrong answer.