I joined twitter 3 years and 4 months ago. I did it twice. The first time as an observer-explorer, but gave up on it. The second time, with a friend’s encouragement I tried it again. Like any new technology, medium of expression, or tools, there were trials and errors. I didn’t know how to use twitter at first, but well, none of us did. People got into trouble for their tweets, and I did too. There have been doctors out there ready to crucify me and my tweets as it did not fit their brand of professionalism. The legal boundaries formed around tweeting doctors were blurred and there was a period when we doctors were forced to ‘come out’. All these anonymous witch-doctors were being pulled kicking and screaming out into the open.
Why did I join twitter?
1. Enjoyment (Social)
It’s social media after all. Twitter is mostly fun, encouraging and funny. There are a few out there for negative reasons, but it’s a mostly safe social arena. I have met many wonderful, interesting, fascinating people who are now dear friends to me. These are not friends I’d ever meet through ‘traditional’ social methods, frankly because I have no time to socialize in parties or pubs anymore. Remember that for every tweet, there are plenty of personal DMs not seen by the public. Some of those DMs from close twitter friends have pulled me together during difficult times. Hey, I even got Canadian socks from an awesome Twitter friend who I’ve never met before. It’s like pen pals in the past. The sharing of words and lives is an inherently human experience.
2. Education (Learning)
I’m on twitter to learn a bit of medicine, surgery and life skills in general. Some of the studies that have changed the way I practice surgery I first read on twitter. Some life wisdom that has encouraged me to live a better life I first read on twitter. Funny one liners, trivia, awesome pictures, random information, latest news and all sorts of beautiful things that colour my day all gets delivered through twitter. I have learned much through twitter. I’m usually the first on my unit to hear about a breaking news, new ideas, interesting studies, etc. Twitter adds colour to my days.
3. Engagement (Teaching)
Yes, if you haven’t figured that out already, I’m an ENT surgeon in training. It means that one aspect of my calling as a doctor is to teach others how to live better lives and help them through their ENT problems. I also freely give out life advice that I’ve found helpful. Take it or leave it. More importantly, I want people to laugh or smile when they read my tweet. I want people to enjoy my tweet, not get a PhD in ENT.
What else have I learned through twitter?
1. Twitter is here to stay.
Just like moving from snail mail to e-mail, from phone landlines to mobile phones, from desktop computer to portable personal computing, Twitter is a new medium of communication that is here to stay. When I’m looking up another doctor, I not only look up their addresses, emails or phone numbers up, I also look up their twitter handle. Twitter is a new address, a new email, a new phone number, a new contact point in this increasingly interconnected society we live in. It almost does not matter if we live on different continents, as long as you’ve got twitter, you can contact/DM/interrupt my day any time, as if you’re a colleague working in the next operating theatre.
2. Twitter helps me express my thoughts.
I used to journal my thoughts. I still do. The word is my medium of self-expression. I find that I feel better if I can articulate my convoluted mind using a few well-chosen words. Not that I’m a poet or anything. Twitter is like a toothbrush. It keeps my brains clean and free from thought sediments. My wife knows this and although she hates me for spending too much time on twitter, she also knows that it is my medium of expression. It’s a way of me clearing up my thoughts as I go through my stressful surgical days. That’s why I hope to continue tweeting to keep my mind active.
3. Get a shorter twitter handle next time.
4. 3,500 followers mean nothing if you’ve added nothing into their lives.
There are celebrities with millions of followers. I don’t want to be that. But I do want to be an inspiration to a few. I want to help if I can. Twitter is a unique method of getting into people’s lives. When I’m followed, it means that I’ve been invited to enter into the lives and thoughts of someone, and I need to respect that. I cannot be putting up garbage on their timeline. I want people to laugh, or be inspired, or learn something from my tweets because they have allowed me the privilege of allowing my words to enter into their conscious minds.
5. The timeline is the appetizer. The DMs is where the public becomes personal.
I’ve seen your hurts on your DMs (Direct Messages). I want to reach out and help. Words, even mere words, can be an incredible powerful agent of change. Tell me your pain, and I will do what I can to share in your struggles. It’s like being in a busy train, sometimes you strike up a good conversation and tell your story to a total stranger who can share your pain even if only briefly.
6. People are inherently interested in other people’s lives.
The common bond amongst us all: life. We have lives to live, stories to tell. I’m interested in your life and thoughts. And I know that many people are interested in what it’s like to be training as a surgeon. I tell you my story. I allow you to see the raw emotions I feel when I’ve been on call non-stop for 10days. I tell you my struggles with family, work, dying patients, etc. And I’m interested in your stories too. It’s like sitting around a campfire, trading stories, enriching lives.
7. Don’t judge a tweep by a single tweet. See the whole timeline.
Lots of bad twitter fights happen because of this error in misinterpreting a single tweet. In life as in twitter, there is no point winning an argument but losing the friendship.
8. Everyone is equal and accessible on Twitter.
I can speak to a professor, an astronaut and a Miss Universe contestant on Twitter. And I get to discover that they are all down to earth people, happy to live out their ordinary lives. It’s inspiring like that. Similarly, I hope people can just tweet me up and I can help them in whatever way I can.
9. There are different uses for twitter.
Some are on twitter for commercial reasons. Some for clinical reasons. Some for political reasons. Others like me, are here for fun. Just like in any social gathering, don’t assume that everyone is here for serious purposes. For example, my lighthearted comments about medicine and surgery have been mistaken for serious criticisms. The funny thing is I never meant for any of my tweets to be a serious opinion. I liken myself some times to the court jester who performs and cracks jokes to provide a lighthearted alternative at looking at this serous business of life and surgery. The Surgical News, which is the monthly magazine of The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, read by thousands of Aussie and New Zealand surgeons routinely include several articles written by anonymous Prof R U Kidding, Dr BB Gloved and Dr IMA Trainee. They are anonymous articles meant to poke fun at the serious business of surgery. Sometimes being told directly about an issue has a negative effect compared to being told a funny story by an anonymous. The effect is the same though: laughter, enlightenment and behavior change. I hope my tweets do that. If you’re looking for medical information, there are plenty of doctors on twitter who do that better than me.
10. It’s ok to be an anonymous doctor.
I know some would not agree with that. This is how I see it: being a doctor is who I am. I cannot separate who I am in real life and who I am on twitter. But I’m not here on twitter as your doctor, so I’m not going to offer you personal medical advice. Also, I’m not here as a professional entity, although I will remain professional and courteous. I’m not here marketing my surgical practice. I’m here as me, myself and I, who happened to be a doctor and tweet doctorish thoughts. If I can help you in any way, does it matter if you don’t know my full name? I’m not endorsing any special treatment, surgery or thoughts. You don’t really need my name.
Sometimes I share the raw emotions, the confusions, the frustrations, the anger, the uncertainties, the inexactness of the science and practice of surgery. All those things are real. Real patients and real doctors know that. Medicine is not a sterile, perfect, exacting practice. I don’t think I’m painting a bad picture of medicine and surgery when I share some of those raw experiences. I don’t think I’m being unprofessional when I’m questioning my own and my hospital practice. I don’t think I’m being unprofessional when I’m sharing the human side of medicine and surgery – the blame game, the politics, the money, the administration, the ego clashes. And I don’t think that I’m hiding behind my anonymity when I do that. I’m sharing the real story behind doctoring that does not need to be hidden. One day I will come out. But at the moment I still feel that I am effective being an anonymous. And yes, I am accountable for every tweet I have tweeted. I’m fine with that.
Twitter has become a routine part of my daily life. I’ve had so much fun with it. I’ve learned much, and I love it. It has given me so much needed support during odd hours of my nights. It has been a real enjoyment, education and engagement tool. I hope to have inspired some lives out there during the process.
But I need to let it go.
Why? Because it has taken up so much of my thoughts and my time. I need to focus on something else of immense importance in the next 3 months, and I need to be single-mindedly preparing for this and this alone: FRACS Fellowship Exam. It’s like taking a sabbatical. I need to focus on studying and training myself up to be the best I can be, so that hopefully I can return as a fully trained surgeon and be even more helpful for the people around me and my friends on twitter.
So farewell, my friends. While I fall in love with ENT, will you keep a space for me when I return?
PS. I’m still instagramming, though.