Make social media work in your favor during fellowship

By Anastasia Climan, RDN, CD-N | Fact-checked by Barbara Bekiesz
Published June 23, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • Healthcare professionals have a lot to gain or lose when using social media.

  • Social media can be a great networking tool, but some forms of communication are better left to email.

  • Fellows interested in maintaining their social media presence may want to focus on positive engagements while avoiding divisive topics.

Social media provides an opportunity to showcase your best self to the world, from any location. A carefully curated social media profile can be valuable for networking and self-promotion. You can keep your finger on the pulse of trending healthcare topics and stay on top of your colleagues’ experiences at different hospitals.

However, beware the potential downsides of social media. Not only can your colleagues and prospective employers view your profile, but patients can, too. Therefore, a public-facing account must be free of any potential pitfalls that could paint you in a negative light or, worse, cause legal ramifications.

Manage your professional brand

A key strategy for putting your best foot forward on social media is maintaining separate accounts for personal and professional use.[] That way, you can apply privacy settings to your personal accounts and limit who can search for you. You may prefer to delete personal accounts altogether.

Other best practices include:

  • Social media can be time-consuming, so be selective about your platforms. Only open as many accounts as you can consistently manage and monitor.

  • Always take the time to double-check your spelling and grammar before posting to ensure a professional tone. Online tools like Grammarly can be your second set of eyes and help catch errors that could damage your credibility.

  • Do your best to stay positive and don’t complain or use profanities. 

  • In addition to sharing your own accomplishments, be sure to highlight the awards and accolades of your colleagues, giving praise and recognition to celebrate their achievements.

  • Social media is also an excellent place to highlight breakthroughs in healthcare technology and access. However, controversial and divisive topics, like politics, are best avoided on a public-facing profile.

  • Be sure to monitor posts you’ve been tagged in by other profiles, and set the same high standards for any content with your name attached to it.

  • Healthcare providers must be vigilant to avoid HIPAA violations by sharing information about specific cases or responding to patients’ messages through social media.[]

  • Always discuss medicine in general terms, and err on the side of caution by encouraging followers to seek individualized medical care.

Related: Today's fellows are armed with technology

Follow proper networking etiquette

Once you set up a professional social media profile, it can be tempting to use it for everything. However, in certain cases, formal communication is better suited for email. As a general rule, connect with your colleagues and peers on social media, but formally reach out to faculty by email.[] If in doubt, it’s better to do things the old-fashioned way rather than risk coming off as unprofessional or pushy. 

When connecting with someone on social media, include a quick introduction and note why you’d like to add them to your network. 

It never hurts to offer a professional compliment or share a common interest to establish the basis for your request.

Get an insider’s view

Related: The evolution of fellowship: New tech, more competition, and the quest for inclusivity

You can learn a lot by viewing other people’s social media accounts. For example, if you’re considering applying at a new hospital, you might want to hold off on making an official decision until you’ve had a chance to follow clinicians and get a feel of their experience at the facility. 

Do they seem happy or excited about the work, or do they appear burned out and unsupported? 

While some may not be as open about sharing the negative aspects of their work, you may be able to gain more insight through their social media accounts. In addition, you can send a direct message to a potential colleague, show your interest, and ask if they would be willing to speak with you or answer some questions. As long as your message is respectful and professional, it shouldn’t hurt to reach out.

What this means for you

Social media is a platform to show off your professional strengths and share thoughtful medical news, but it can be harmful to your career if not managed carefully. Steer clear of HIPAA violations and offensive topics while closely monitoring any posts you’re tagged in. Networking on social media is easy, but remember that it’s not always the most appropriate format for reaching out to superiors.

Related: Expert perspective: Maintaining mental health during the rigors of fellowship
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