Social Media: A Primer for Physicians

social media for physicians

I used to think social media was not a place for a physician to be. The thought of putting my professional self on the internet seemed like a way to possibly tarnish a reputation I was still trying to build. However, as time goes on and our use of social media grows, I’ve learned that it can be an essential tool for education, advocacy, research, and making connections—especially right now amid the isolation from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

From a 2021 survey, the Pew Research Center estimates that 7 in 10 Americans use at least one social media account, with specific platforms growing more quickly than others. Based on their research, the top two most used social media platforms are Youtube and Facebook, with Instagram coming in third place. Other platforms with lower usage include LinkedIn, Twitter, and the increasingly popular TikTok. 

With so many options out there, how do you get started toward reaching your personal and professional goals? 

  • Establish Goals. First, you have to establish exactly what goals you are trying to reach. For example, do you want to provide education to an audience? How about networking with other physicians and healthcare professionals? You could even promote your clinical practice and business.
  • Determine Audience & Platform. Once you identify your goals, you need to determine your audience and which platforms you want to use. Your choice of application will vary based on these factors, as well as the time you wish to spend on content creation.

Exploring Social Media Platforms for Physicians

Let's walk through what I believe to be the top 5 social media platforms for physicians. These are applications that either have a large audience or which I believe are here to stay. My insights on each platform come from personal experience as a social media user, my recent professional use of these platforms, plus my research. Other platforms not covered in this piece include the physician-oriented Doximity and up-and-coming Clubhouse.

Here are my top 5:

  • Facebook. Facebook has one of the largest audiences out there, and the users are broadly representative of the population as a whole. It also contains a variety of content options, like videos, photos, and text. It’s all there. Whether to use Facebook also depends on what age group you are trying to reach. Younger adults often use other platforms, but Facebook remains popular among older adults. A potential downside is overcrowding, which makes it difficult to stand out and be unique. It also has been the subject of many headlines regarding misleading information and privacy and security policies.
  • Instagram. Do you like photos and visual aids? This might be the platform for you. It is heavily used by younger audiences, and I have enjoyed being creative with it. Now owned by Facebook, I discovered how easy it is to connect your two accounts and post to both of them for efficiency. Unfortunately, I use it only on my phone, as there is no desktop application other than the website, which is very limited. However, if you want to create a brand, you should check it out, given the visual impact.
  • LinkedIn. This one is definitively targeted at working professionals, especially those hiring or looking for a job. It can also be a great networking tool, and I find it helpful for connecting with colleagues in other industries outside medicine. While I have been seeing more physicians there, especially in non-clinical roles, I do not use it to post educational or advocacy topics. However, if you have a business or services to promote, LinkedIn has been adding more features for this, especially for freelancers.
  • YouTube. Have a love for videos and want to share your message verbally and visually with an audience? YouTube could be one to try. In my personal use, I often go to it for short content in different areas if I am not in the mood for a movie or TV show. However, from hearing others' stories, it is definitely more time intensive if you would be making videos independently. Some might look at it as a creative outlet, but it could be challenging to get going if you are looking for efficiency. Also, while it has the largest audience and user base, it could be difficult to compete with other channels that have been around longer.
  • TikTok. If you have a knack for creativity and want to reach a younger audience on a rapidly growing platform, try downloading this one and see what you think. I have limited experience with the app itself, but I have seen many medical-related videos posted on other platforms that were created on TikTok. However, be aware that trends seem to be more popular than cohesive branding, which might make it difficult if you are trying to stand out while maintaining a specific business message. 

I hope this wrap-up helps you if you are considering a social media presence. I’m still working on mine, so leave a comment or message me through one of the links in my bio if you need help or have questions!  

Alison Yarp, MD, MPH

Alison Yarp, MD, MPH

Alison is a physician consultant with a passion for educating and mentoring. She graduated from Emory University with a Bachelor of Science degree, double majoring in Biology and Anthropology. She then received her MD from the UT Long School of Medicine and Master of Public Health from the UT School of Public Health. After completing an intern year in psychiatry, she realized that she wanted to make a broader impact and decided to pursue other areas of medicine. Currently, she is applying to preventive medicine and public health training programs, while freelancing as a consultant and writer. Her primary interests include medical trainee wellbeing and mentorship, mental health awareness, suicide prevention, and disaster management, and she enjoys educating others on these topics.

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