Zebras and oxpeckers: Why resident physicians and social media need each other

August 19, 2016
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Do you remember learning about mutualistic symbiotic relationships in fifth-grade biology? The zebra and the oxpecker bird, the bee and the flower, and the bacteria in the human digestive tract, wherein two distinct groups mutually benefit from the relationship in a way not possible on their own.

Do you remember learning about mutualistic symbiotic relationships in fifth-grade biology? The zebra and the oxpecker bird, the bee and the flower, and the bacteria in the human digestive tract, wherein two distinct groups mutually benefit from the relationship in a way not possible on their own.

In today’s complex healthcare jungle, a mutually beneficial symbiotic relationship is beginning to form between resident physicians and social media platforms such as blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Doximity, and LinkedIn.

Why does social media need resident physicians?

  1. Enthusiasm for change. Today’s residents opted to pursue careers in medicine knowing that the healthcare climate would be changing. I will never forget my first medical school interview just days after the Obama-McCain Presidential election, which lasted three hours and included such questions as, “What are you doing?” and “Do you realize the government will soon run your practice?” I calmly-nervously-sweatingly responded that, yes, I realized healthcare was changing, but that I wanted to be part of the solution. Residents like me began medical school knowing a change was on the horizon and we, perhaps in youthful naiveté, remain hopeful for a brighter tomorrow. Social media needs doctors who can maintain enthusiasm about healthcare in the face of constant changes, doctors who want to be involved in the debate about the future of healthcare.> Social media needs doctors who can maintain enthusiasm about healthcare in the face of constant changes. Tweet this. 

  2. Resident oxpeckers to sound the alarm. With a literal bird’s-eye view over the terrain, the oxpecker is often aware of danger far in advance of the zebra. When the oxpecker senses danger, she flies up near the zebra’s head, tweeting a distinct warning that danger is imminent. With the drastic changes occurring throughout the healthcare landscape, social media savvy residents have the means of verbalizing timely and distinct warnings that will be heard by local and national policy makers, legislators, and hospital administrators. In a separate post, I compared the effective use of social media in healthcare to using a megaphone at a football game, where a message, if timely and qualified, can be heard by thousands, both on and off the field. Oxpeckers are needed in healthcare social media, publishing timely, qualified, distinct messages, to clearly reach the ears of the zebras, rhinos, and oxen of today’s policymakers.

Why do resident physicians need healthcare social media?

  1. Today’s residents get social media. What they need to learn is how to use social media professionally. Residents today grew up in the era of social media. Most residents have a Facebook profile with hundreds of friends from college, an Instagram feed and even a blog to share photos and autobiographical stories with close friends and family. Today’s resident physicians get social media.  What we resident physicians don’t get, however, is how to use social media professionally. Translating our innate understanding of social media into a professional, practice-building tool, requires learning branding, marketing, and advertising – tools we will need once we begin practicing. Learning these important practical lessons while a resident will help ease the transition once we finish training.> Resident physicians get social media, but do they know how to use it professionally? Tweet this.

  2. **The White Pages of yesterday is the Google of tomorrow. **I know several very successful physicians nearing retirement who have never advertised beyond simply including their name, practice address, and phone number in the White Pages. For these physicians, practice survival in the former healthcare industry required little more than a White Pages listing. In the healthcare of tomorrow, physicians in almost all specialties will need to have an online presence as well as a professional website which ranks highly on Google searches. This professional website, combined with a targeted social media strategy will be the White Pages of the future. Establishing this online presence during residency will provide a simple transition into practice with a quick physical address update on a blog, website, or social media platforms such as Doximity, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Just as the oxpecker physician needs the social media zebra, the zebra also needs the oxpecker. Social media is causing a revolution within medicine, or rather, an evolution. Don’t be slow to change and prone to gradual extinction, be like the oxpecker bird and just start tweeting!

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