How Twitter Has Made Me a Better Pharmacist

November 18, 2015

I would be remiss if my first contribution for Pharmacy Times did not mention the tool that has reinvigorated me professionally and led me here-Twitter.

Here are 5 reasons why you should join Twitter right now:

  • Twitter is not just a bunch of teenagers posting selfies.
  • There is a large community of health care organizations and professionals on Twitter.
  • Twitter provides a continuous ticker of the latest hot topics that matter to pharmacists.
  • Twitter is a community that promotes engagement and makes learning fun!
  • Twitter does not replace traditional continuing education (CE); rather, it augments it.

I would be remiss if my first contribution for Pharmacy Times did not mention the tool that has reinvigorated me professionally and led me here—Twitter. That’s right, the social media application loved by middle-schoolers and multinational corporations alike has helped me become a better pharmacist.

Many traditionalists balk at the concept of professional education on unregulated social media platforms, but they are missing the point. For me, Twitter has been more about reminding myself how much I don’t know. It’s all about engaging and challenging myself on a daily basis.

As an early Millennial, using computers as a form of communication is something I grew up with. We got our first home computer when I was a teenager, and the first thing I did was sign up for AOL Instant Messenger so I could communicate with other likeminded young geeks.

During my first years of college in Boston, Facebook was popularized on local campuses and quickly became a useful tool for engaging with peers. For a long time, social media remained nothing more than a casual distraction for me.

Being an early Millennial (or late GenXer), I have one foot in the pre-Web era, so my professional persona and my online presence seemed to be totally irreconcilable worlds. Until a couple years ago, I regarded Twitter as just another social outlet that thrives off of our innate narcissism.

Then, a colleague of mine and fellow Pharmacy Times contributor, Timothy P. Gauthier, PharmD, BCPS-AQ ID (@IDstewardship), convinced me to join Twitter and check it out. It didn’t take long for me to understand the educational utility of Twitter, and realize that I had been missing out.

I never had a Twitter account until Tim convinced me to join, so I started with a blank slate. The first thing that surprised me was the number of professional organizations and journals that promoted content through Twitter.

Journals such as JAMA (@JAMA_current) and NEJM (@NEJM) tweet about new clinical research, while pharmacy associations like ASHP (@ASHPOfficial) and APhA (@pharmacists) tweet about advances in the profession. Even the FDA (@US_FDA) and CDC (@CDCgov) tweet about the latest guidelines and advisories.

In just a few minutes, and with little effort on my part, I can get a snapshot of the latest medical information from dozens of highly respected organizations.

I soon discovered that there are thousands of other health care professionals (many in my area of emergency medicine) on Twitter. And they weren't just sharing selfies; they were sharing high-quality medical content.

The information you receive via Twitter is not random, either. You choose who you follow, and if you choose well, then you have your own personal panel of medical professionals sorting through a world of content and promoting information that is high quality and worth sharing.

Many may argue that the mass of unregulated information on Twitter lacks the credibility of traditional sources, which was initially one of my major concerns. In many social forums such as Twitter, opinions are far more common than facts.

However, the conversations on Twitter can be compared to those that you may have with a colleague at a conference networking session. The goal of those conversations are to share experiences, ideas, and interests. Those conversations may lead you to dive into the data and change the way you practice, but no one would change their practice based on a single conversation.

These conversations are important nonetheless, because much can be learned from the experience of others. If nothing else, it challenges you to accept how little you know and how much you have left to learn.

This brings me back to how Twitter has made such a positive impact on me professionally.

Before I started engaging with others via Twitter, I felt as though my narrow view of the horizon didn’t go much farther than my own institution. Yes, I tried to follow emerging literature and maintained my knowledge and skills with traditional CE, and every year or so, I would branch out and attend a conference. But on a day-to-day basis, the only bar I had to compare myself was my own.

Then, I got on Twitter, and suddenly, I had a giant network of kindred professionals all sharing and engaging with each other.

By engaging with such a large network, my own deficiencies were blatantly obvious, thanks to technology breaking down physical and temporal borders. Now, I can participate in discussions on the hottest topics in my specialty right from my smartphone. It’s that daily engagement that reinvigorated me professionally, because am I no longer an observer in the greater health care community, but an active, connected, member, and contributor.

To get started on Twitter, search for and follow some relevant organizations like those listed above. Twitter will also make suggestions for similar accounts, such as @Pharmacy_Times. You can also find someone in your area of practice and see who they follow. (Check out my account and who I follow @theEDpharmacist.) In addition, search for relevant hashtags like #FOAM or #FOAMed, which stand for Free Open Access Medical Education.