Does Twitter Belong on Your Medical School Application?

July 24, 2010

I have a friend actively involved in social health applying for medical school.  She reached out to ask me how much should she make of her social media involvement?  Will the mention of participation on a SXSW panel or the start of a social community help or hurt her application?

Actually a good question.  Some academics, after all, see social media as a waste of time, but many are curious about it.  The really smart ones understand its potential power.  So as a medical school applicant you can see how this could work for you or against you.

While initially I thought that positioning yourself as a social health innovator could be something of a liability, I think the potential upside outweighs risk.  But like so many things, it’s all in how you set it up.

If you’re face-to-face in an interview you need to be prepared with the reality of the skeptics.  Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Be prepared to educate. Remember that academic medicine is painfully stuck in 1.0.  Most ivory tower physicians believe the web is  an outbound information source for meddling patients.  No interviewer likes to look stupid so be prepared to gently define the basics social media and its role in health.

Drop names.  One way to educate is to have a handful of great illustrations that draw from the social innovation of reputable institutions.  For example, study the Mayo Clinic’s use of social platforms and how they’re changing patient care.

Make a research connection. In academia, research sells.  Don’t be afraid to sell the potential goldmine of clinical research centered about health 2.0.  Be prepared to fluently detail a couple of potential studies centered in social communities.

Don’t be a cheerleader. While you may be a fanatic you need to professionally control your passion.  Extreme views are likely to be looked at with skepticism.  When I brought the question of social media and medical school applications on iMedExchange (physician only social platform) JP Santiago, a family practitioner, from Dallas made the great point you should be able to detail the pitfalls of social media in health – be able to tell both sides of the story.  And he should know – he interviews applicants for UT Southwestern.

Avoid social media lingo.  Insider jargon will only separate you from your interviewer and it may very well lead to a ‘pass’ when applications are reviewed.

When in doubt, bring it back to the patient. Even the most pompous paternalist wants to believe he’s there for no one other than the patient.  Positioning social health as the next great bridge from doctor to patient is not only spot-on but compelling and likely to create memorable attention in the minds of an interviewer.

Remember that your passion for social health is something that sets you apart.  It has the potential to showcase who you are and what you represent.  But despite your passion, you won’t be able to promote social health as a physician if you can’t reach the first step of getting into medical school.

Be smart about how you pitch yourself.  Think ahead, sell what you’ve done, differentiate yourself, be visionary, don’t preach, and make yourself irresistible.

I’ll see you in the doctor’s lounge.


Becca Camp July 25, 2010 at 10:13 am

This is excellent advice–thanks, Bryan!

A major problem of mine is that I’m at a pretty early stage of figuring out exactly how I’m going to use social health to change the world, and leverage a media presence to realize my mission. Most of my time right now is spent thinking, engaging, learning, synthesizing. Those things are pretty hard to describe when I’m visiting the Ivory Tower, even though I believe they set me apart from the typical applicant.

So, the part that really hit home was your recommendation to reference concrete evidence and/or reputable institutions. It’s super important to have facts on hand to prove you’ve done your homework, and that you’re focused on actionable goals in the long run. Now, to articulate what I’d do if someone gave me 10 million dollars to make a difference in health care…

DrV July 26, 2010 at 5:21 pm

Sure. I think we’re all trying to understand how we can impact the world. Without having done that, however, the questions will still come up. And if anyone can field those questions, it’s you. Let me know if more specific questions come up. And I can try to connect you with JP Santiago in Dallas if you want to talk further with him.

Natalie Hodge MD FAAP July 25, 2010 at 1:36 pm

Nice Post Brian, I like that last comment ” Bring it back to the Patient” Just recently heard James Fowler speak about his findings on Social Contagion last month at Institute for the Future’s meeting in San Francisco. We have continued interest to see how a Physician may use his social graph to improve the health and wellness of his patients in his practice. Certainly business use of social media and personal use continue to blur and physicians must stay mindful that anything and everything they say may me use against them in court.

But what we are really talking about is the opportunity to IMPROVE our relationships with our patient and potential to IMPROVE health and WELL BEING of our Social Graph as doctors and role models in our communities.

Best, Natalie

DrV July 26, 2010 at 5:19 pm

I gave a presentation to a group of MDs on ethics for physicians in social media and the group was composed of older physicians, many near retirement. In the wings I was anticipating how much contempt they might have for social. In the Q&A I was impressed to see how they find SoMe the potential link to getting medicine back to its roots through patient connection. This selling point resonates really powerfully.

Jennifer Adaeze Anyaegbunam July 25, 2010 at 9:52 pm

I Love this!! Definately adding this post to my favorites. I’ve grown to love social media and I use it to learn more about the medical field everyday!

I also run my own blog and use platforms like Facebook and Twitter to promote my content. You bring up a number of great questions I will need to think about before medical school interviews in the fall. Thanks :)

DrV July 26, 2010 at 5:23 pm

Jennifer – thanks for your kind comments. Your writing is impressive and I look forward to reading what you have to say going forward. We’re all learning about how to handle these issues and I’d love your feedback as you move through the system. I hope you come back.

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