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Doctors engage the public by bringing a human side to social media

doctor phone
Credit: Unsplash/CC0 Public Domain

A few years ago, doctors flooded social media with photos of themselves in swimsuits, along with the hashtag #medbikini. The reason? A recently published study suggested it was "unprofessional" for women physicians to post photos of themselves in bikinis.

Although the study caused a major outcry and was eventually retracted, its key message was nothing new. For decades, doctors have been trained to keep their personal lives separate from their work lives. To maintain their identities as trusted experts wherever they go—even on the beach.

Studies have shown that this pressure to appear professional can lead to burnout and even suicide. It may also damage physicians' relationship with the public, because people tend to trust experts who are not only knowledgeable, but also warm and personable.

But our new study shows that—despite these pressures—physicians feel it's important to show their personal side on social media. To be effective health communicators, they see that presenting their "human self" as well as their "professional self" allows them to healthy behaviors for peers and trainees, and to be more relatable to their patients and the public.

Doctors on X

As researchers who study health communication and physician education, we wanted to understand how doctors present themselves on social media—an environment where the lines between personal and professional are often blurred.

We interviewed 28 doctors in the United States about how they decide when and what to post and who they hope to reach on X (formerly Twitter). We also looked at each doctor's bio and profile photo, noting the images, hashtags and descriptions they used to present themselves.

We found that the doctors used X for many reasons, ranging from the strictly professional to the highly personal. They used the platform to connect with colleagues, advocate for social change, raise awareness about social justice issues and educate the public about health topics, which aligns with previous research.

This wasn't just a hobby or passion for physicians, but a core part of their professional role. As one doctor put it: "I feel like it's part of my job. It's part of what I signed up for as being a physician to educate my communities."

Most importantly, doctors also used X to show a more human side, posting about their families, pets, vacations (yes, including pictures of themselves in swimsuits), hobbies and more. Many were also upfront about their failures and struggles with their , explaining that they wanted to show the general public (but also remind some of their medical colleagues) that doctors "are human beings…like everyone else."

Doctors felt it was important that their posts and profile represented their authentic self and not just their professional credentials, although they showcased those as well. As one doctor put it: "This is me. I'm a . I'm a woman. I'm a mother."

Showing their authentic selves

Doctors explained that showing their human side wasn't just something they did for themselves but was also a way to build trusting relationships with their patients. They were keenly aware that trust is essential for effective medical care, increasing the chances that patients will return for follow-up visits and stick to health recommendations.

As one doctor put it, "I think I get credibility for demonstrating humanity, honestly…Once they sort of know who I am as a human, I like to think that it, I hope, makes them more likely to listen when I say something medically."

Doctors also shared their authentic selves to create social change, both in their profession and in society at large. Recognizing the high levels of stress students face in medical school, they hoped to role model for future physicians that "doctors can't be doctors all of the time" and encourage them to work towards better work-life balance. Doctors also used their profiles to speak out about important social justice issues, such as diversity in medicine, gun control and the climate crisis.

At times, doctors' openness about their personal identities and beliefs caused tensions in their professional lives. For example, some received comments from employers who felt their was "too personal." Others experienced harassment, including offensive comments about their race or gender.

Still, the doctors in our study overwhelmingly felt that showing this human side was worth it—that it made them better social media communicators, doctors and citizens. By showing their authentic selves online, they felt they could show colleagues, aspiring and the public that it is possible—and even beneficial—to be both a doctor and a human being.

Provided by The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.The Conversation

Citation: Doctors engage the public by bringing a human side to social media (2024, May 23) retrieved 19 June 2024 from https://phys.org/news/2024-05-doctors-engage-human-side-social.html
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