The Power of Social Media

Samantha Batt-Rawden

It is probably not an exaggeration to say that social media was a lifeline for me whilst on maternity leave.

Up feeding for the fourth time in a night and desperately trying to rock Joshua back to sleep, social media allowed me to reach out to a community of doctor Mums around the UK, all doing exactly the same as I was at 4am. Suddenly, looking after a tiny human who couldn’t talk back became a little less lonely.

I first became involved in social media as a medical student working as a rep to RCPsych, looking at ways to improve recruitment. Even 10 years ago it became clear that the click rate on emails was dwindling, and more and more students were receiving their information via push notifications. The way we were connecting was changing. A Facebook network for psychiatry was born, and soon after that, an associate Twitter account.

I’ve looked at using social media to teach and model empathy, to drive clinical excellence, for peer support, for public facing education, FOAMed (free open access medical education), and most recently for political lobbying and advocacy. Increasingly I’m recognising the power of social media to do so much more.

Take Facebook, for example. In the past Twitter was for professional use, whilst Facebook was reserved for doctors’ personal lives, but the lines are becoming more blurred. Working in a system under increasing pressure, and with the loss of the traditional doctors’ mess, doctors are looking for new spaces to connect with their colleagues. The power of Facebook groups is bringing doctors, with a shared characteristic perhaps, or a common goal together

For example, in the wake of Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba’s case, a lightning rod for the profession, a team of us were able to amass 30,000 doctors in one forum in a matter of weeks. The doctors running the forum subsequently formed an independent lobbying group, The Doctors’ Association UK (DAUK), which I now Chair. Through social media we were suddenly able to bring thousands of doctors together to effect change on an unprecedented scale which, quite honestly took us by surprise; 4500 doctors signed a letter to the GMC, for example, 1200 doctors signed a letter to the Health Select Committee published in the mainstream press. We were able to support the crowdfunding for Hadiza’s successful appeal started by my excellent colleagues at Team Hadiza. An awful lot, for a group of ordinary doctors who met on social media.

Social media gave us the tools to quickly build and disseminate campaigns such as # ScraptheCap on a national scale. Our #LearnNotBlame campaign was launched in Parliament in November, attended by the Health Secretary, who we first conversed with on Twitter.

This flattening of the hierarchy of medicine is exactly what we need to see in establishing a learning culture. Crucially, it enables ordinary doctors to speak up, to suggest ideas whilst also enabling our leaders to engage directly with the grassroots, to role model, and lead from the front.

Social media also enables us to have discussions with people you may never have the opportunity to meet in real life, and facilitates team working. I understand a lot more about how different specialties and job roles work within the NHS; their bug bears about ICU, the ways that we can help or add value to other teams. Projects like @NHS, run by NHS England and curated by a different member of NHS staff or a patient each week provides a rare and valuable window into someone else’s life or job for week.

I’m inspired by the social media content I see all the time and I learn a lot too. For this busy trainee with a young family, Twitter keeps me up to date. I often find podcasts to listen to on my commute (thanks Resus Room!), I can read a round up of this month’s relevant articles, I can access FOAMed and e-learning for my portfolio, I can read live tweets from a conference if I can’t attend. Honestly, it saves me so much time I do wonder what I did without it?!

It is true that social media has other downsides. Some of what is shared skirts very close to the line in terms of patient confidentiality, and in some cases crosses it. FOAMed is brilliant, but you can’t always rely on it, and I would always encourage doctors to go and read papers themselves. The same old arguments go round and round, I’m often amazed at how angry doctors can get at the words ‘cricoid’ or ‘video laryngoscope’. Bullying on social media is sadly not uncommon; people are always much more willing to say things when hidden behind a keyboard that they wouldn’t say to you in real life.

Yet, social media has a huge role to play in peer support and wellbeing. Increasingly, I am seeing more and more projects aimed at boosting morale in the NHS, or inspiring change. If you’d like to be inspired, look at other campaigns, #hellomynameis #signuptosafety #hammeritout #100WP #10ThingstoKnow to name a few. There are plenty of Facebook groups and Twitter accounts geared towards peer support, such as Tea and Empathy, established after the incredibly sad suicide of junior doctor Rose Polge.

There are communities for those who have made a medical error, bereaved doctors, doctors with disabilities, neurodiverse doctors…the list goes on. After my son was born prematurely at 27 weeks I now run a group for doctors who have, or have had a premature or critically unwell baby, NICU; a niche group granted, but made up of incredibly inspiring women, who probably wouldn’t have found each other any other way.  

I would love to see more women in ICM using social media to inspire others, and I’m delighted to see projects like @WICM#womenICM #FeminPHEM #FeminEM becoming such a success . It’s always a bit weird when I meet someone I’ve been engaging with on social media, sometimes it feels like I already know that person. There are consultants who I’ve followed for years, particularly women in ICM, EM and PHEM, some of whom I’ve now had the pleasure of meeting in real life. Unknowingly over the years, these women have provided me with mentorship, inspiration and role-modelling, all through the power of social media. So a big thank you, from this junior trainee who has followed them into their specialty.

Dr Samantha Batt-Rawden is an EM/ICM trainee in the KSS deanery. Sammy is the current Chair of The Doctors’ Association UK @TheDA_UK, and a former deanery FOAMed lead to RCEM @kssemfoam.