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Social media: an opportunity for health professionals to contribute to wider social debates (and to #destroythejoint)

Health professionals have much to gain – and to contribute – from engaging with online discussions and sharing of news and information.

In the article below, Victorian surgeon Dr Jill Tomlinson shares some of her online experiences, including her recent involvement in the #destroythejoint Twitter campaign against misogyny.


My social media journey

Jill Tomlinson writes:

If you want to change Australian healthcare for the better, engaging with social media is a great way to have your voice heard.

It’s said in surgery that you never want to be the first person to do an operation, nor the last to adopt a new surgical technique. Conservatism in surgery is a valuable way to keep within tested boundaries, so you first do no harm. But without innovation there is no progress.

When I started blogging in 2005 as a surgeon-in-training the activity was extremely rare in Australian medicine. As part of the worldwide medical blogging fraternity (the ‘blogosphere’) I found friends and supportive colleagues worldwide. Medical bloggers showcased in the weekly online Grand Rounds and communicated online and offline. Through blogging I rediscovered writing – for the first time in years I wrote creatively about ideas and emotions, rather than a patient’s history and examination findings.

I had to stop blogging in 2007; blogging and working became incompatible activities at that time. Nonetheless I felt a continued strong pull to social media. Social media provides ways to connect with people and to spread messages and ideas broadly. It made complete sense to me to engage, even though this seemed contrary to the prevailing opinion of my colleagues.

To keep “in the loop” in 2008 I became the Webmaster and eNewsletter editor for the Australian Federation of Medical Women, creating, curating and posting content in my “spare time” as I continued working full time and studying to become a plastic surgeon. Creating an AFMW Facebook Group and Page, Twitter account, and LinkedIn Group were the next logical steps.

Each time I learned new online social media communication skills, including ones that I use to support the Australian Human Rights Commission’s current campaign ‘Racism: It Stops With Me’.

Social media is changing the face of communication worldwide. As a surgeon I can only operate on one person at a time. Through social media my voice and reach is magnified. I use social media to keep up to date with new medical discoveries, engage with ePatients, contribute to online conversations, crowdsource opinions and participate in initiatives that aim to improve health.

After I finished surgical training I was surprised and pleased to see that in the last five years many more Australian medical practitioners and organisations have begun to engage with social media. Now that the scene has changed I have begun to write online once more.

I recently wrote about my contribution to the Destroy The Joint campaign, a positive and light-hearted response to misogynist comments by 2UE broadcaster Alan Jones that arose on Twitter after a tweet from Jane Caro on a Friday evening in late August.

Destroy The Joint was empowering, built spontaneously by strangers who joined together to condemn and confront sexist behavior, advocating for social change. The humorous campaign’s approach was aptly likened to laughing at a flasher and quickly went viral. The campaign trended on Twitter for 4 days and spawned merchandise (with proceeds going to refugees), a Facebook group, merchandise, memes, posters and an online petition. The diversity of the contributors was delightful, inspiring and surprising.

Why should doctors and healthcare providers be online? Dr Claire McCarthy from Boston Children’s Hospital put it best: “because that’s where the patients are”.

There are fears and misconceptions about social media, particularly around trolls and cyberbullying. Social media is a form of communication and it should not surprise us that some people say nasty things and behave badly. Anne Summers has documented the sexism directed towards our first female prime minster and it is certainly true that bad behaviour can be magnified by social media. Bad behaviour also occurs in our workplaces, although it should not. In these cases it is not the platform or medium that is the problem, it is the behaviour.

The success of the Destroy The Joint campaign demonstrates the positivity and good humor that exists on social media, and shows that individuals can and do join together through social media to advocate for positive cultural change. The challenges of creating positive social media experiences should not dissuade healthcare professionals from engaging and making their voice heard.

If you’re a healthcare provider who is new to social media there are ways to ease in gently. Establish accounts and watch others first.

Undertake the free online Webicina SoMEDia course to learn more about the platforms you are using. Enlist a social-media savvy mentor to give you guidance, look at social media guidelines for doctors and medical students, and think before you post.

If you use Twitter check out #hcsmanz, a weekly Health Care Social Media chat group for Australia and New Zealand that meets on Sunday evenings.

Don’t feed the trolls, but most importantly: engage and have fun.

• Dr Jill Tomlinson is a qualified plastic, reconstructive and hand surgeon from Victoria



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  • 1
    Rick Turner
    Posted October 4, 2012 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    Hey Jill,

    Thanks for your engaging and encouraging article. As a nurse blogger who has been blogging a for about a year now I would want to add the following warnings to any prospective “newbies” who are thinking about engaging with social media:

    * Remember you are bound by codes of patient/practitioner confidentiality. Dont go mentioning any case studies by name. It sounds obvious I know but with the push to put one’s life on line (facebook, twitter, pin it etc) it is easy to forget that usual codes still apply.
    * Similarly it is easy to forget that healthcare providers have the same rights under law as individual so if you say anything defamatory you can get sued. There have been several famous cases in the US, where nurse bloggers have lost their jobs. For this reason I choose to use a pseudonymn.

    Thanks again for the article. I am happy to hear from any prospective bloggers who want any tips, tricks, information or guidance. See ‘Contact’ at my home page for details:


    Best wishes


  • 2
    Phil Weaver
    Posted October 22, 2012 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    Good Morning Jill,

    First let me say that from your article above you have certainly been busy. Achieving your medical qualifications and blogging at the same time is a major task and you deserve applause for the effort that you put in, particularly with the quality of posts that one sees in the Webmaster and eNewsletters that you mention.

    Your remark about Destroy the Joint caught my eye and thought I would investigate who they are. After googling their activities, I will be honest and say I was some what astounded by your statement:

    “The success of the Destroy The Joint campaign demonstrates the positivity and good humor that exists on social media, and shows that individuals can and do join together through social media to advocate for positive cultural change”

    I read an article this morning about one of the Destroy the Joint members that clearly shows the group are cyber bullies with reference after reference on the DTJ site to confirm this.

    As a “Health Care” professional wouldn’t you be some what concerned that you are helping and condoning the harassing and cyber bullying of so many people and business organisations, with the latest the shocking treatment that has been given to an Italian Restaurant in Sydney and many of DTJ members seem happy about this.

    I understand and agree that Sexism needs to be addressed in our society, and the recent remarks made about the Prime ministers father are an example of what we need to address. At the same time it should be across the board, so if a woman makes an offensive remark about a man lets keep the same rules in place. In fact if a man makes an offensive remark about another man, or a woman about a woman lets strike that person down, take away their job and destroy anyone who has ties to them. Because this is the Mantra that I see in Destroy the Joint.

    May I suggest that you edit your article and take out the Positivity and Humour and the “Success” of Destroy the Joint because it definitely lowers one’s opinion of you as a “Health Professional”

    Kindest regards

    Phillip Weaver