The tweetorial: Medical education beyond the textbook

By Samar Mahmoud, MS
Published December 21, 2021

Key Takeaways

Gone are the days when medical students and doctors had only textbooks, classrooms, and conferences to rely on for expanding their medical knowledge.

Enter the social media behemoth, Twitter. Originally a microblogging service with a mere 140-character word limit, Twitter has become one of the world’s most popular social networking platforms, boasting over 200 million daily users—including thousands of doctors. 

Since its founding, Twitter has doubled its character limit, and in 2017, introduced “threads,” which have become a popular workaround for users to get past Twitter’s character limits. With more than 2,000 physicians on the platform—likely an underestimate—Twitter has become a powerful medical education and communication tool. It allows medical experts to interact with a broad audience, including other physicians, trainees, and importantly patients, thus giving rise to “tweetorials.” 

What is a tweetorial and how can you get on board with this medical trend? Let’s have a look. 

What is a tweetorial?

Combining “tweet” and “tutorial,” the tweetorial has emerged as a collection of threaded tweets that aim to educate users about a certain topic. These threads can be used to teach key concepts, explain or critique emerging research, or tell stories. Unlike individual tweets, tweetorials are planned and written ahead of time and posted simultaneously. The best tweetorials present complex information in simple ways using high-quality visuals, polls, and even GIFs. These tweetorials have the potential to reach audiences far and wide, engaging more users than traditional formats such as lectures, scientific articles, or medical books. The tweetorial presents medical experts with a unique platform to disseminate ideas and curb misconceptions. 

History of tweetorials 

The first tweetorials emerged in 2017, and while there is some debate on who authored the first one, tweetorials were already making headlines by 2018. Vinay Prasad, MD, MPH, was frustrated with a nutritional research study on alcohol consumption, so he took to Twitter and detailed his thoughts on why he believed the research was flawed in a tweetorial. The opening tweet of his tweetorial attracted nearly 200,000 views, amplifying his message beyond what would be possible in any lecture hall. In this early iteration of a tweetorial, it was used to critique new research, but tweetorials have since gained popularity as a tool for asynchronous learning. 

In an article published in The New England Journal of Medicine, Anthony C. Breu, MD, a master of tweetorials with more than 45,000 followers on Twitter, detailed his reasoning for posting his first tweetorial. As he embarked on his medical training, he found himself asking a lot of “what” questions, such as “What is the treatment for community-acquired pneumonia?” or “What is the differential diagnosis for upper gastrointestinal bleeding?” He realized that his focus on “what” questions led him to neglect asking “why” questions, such as "Why do patients become anemic during acute hemorrhage?"—which became the subject of his first-ever tweetorial.

Breu’s answer to this question has been viewed by more than 120,000 Twitter users, with more than 10,000 users reading through the entire nine-tweet thread. Now Breu uses Twitter as a vehicle to turn his curiosity into a mechanism for teaching, with the hope that both doctors and students can use his tweetorials to rekindle their spirit of inquiry. 

Tips for creating tweetorials 

If you're interested in creating and posting tweetorials, here are a few tips to get you started. 

1. Choose a topic 

This can be a question that addresses a knowledge gap in your field or satisfies a personal curiosity. Once you identify your topic of interest, you can use subject-specific hashtags to uncover related tweetorials. A good starting place is to search #Tweetorials in conjunction with your area of interest. 

2. Be thoughtful when drafting your tweetorial 

Pique your target audience’s interest by reeling them in with an interesting first tweet. You can draw in your audience by starting with a question or including polls or visually stimulating multimedia, such as videos of GIFs. Think about what you hope your learners will take away from your tweetorial and come up with a thread that is clear and easy to follow. Be mindful to avoid overly technical terms and medical jargon. This will ensure that your tweetorial will reach a larger audience.

3. Keep it short

Although data are scarce on the optimal length of tweetorials, some readers may stop reading your tweetorial if it is too long. This is especially important if the purpose of your tweetorial is to educate readers. To maximize reader benefit and to ensure users read every tweet in a tweetorial, consider limiting tweetorials to 10-15 tweets. 

4. Consider tagging others (within reason)

If you’re new to Twitter and do not have a large following (yet), you can increase interest in your tweetorial by tagging colleagues who have similar interests. The more people who see and interact with your tweetorial, the more impact it will have. This is also a great way to solicit feedback from experts and engage with the medical community. 

In a short time, tweetorials have become a powerful tool for disseminating knowledge and news to both medical and non-medical users in a way that is digestible. These short tidbits of information have the potential to change the way medical experts interact, with not only their colleagues but their trainees and patients. 

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