By - February 02, 2021
The proverbial break at the water cooler, the unhealthy smoke break outside, or networking only via your boss’s connections are all a thing of the past. A new age of professional networking is at your fingertips, 24/7: no geographic borders, no hierarchies, and no limits. Social media has overtaken the stage as the great connector. Like how we are growing, educating, and connecting on social media platforms, we are also networking, and professional connection-making will never be the same again. Expanding opportunities in the pathology and laboratory medicine world
Whether working in clinical laboratory medicine directly at the bench, managing patients’ cases at the scope or bedside, or merely rotating/interviewing as a prospective applicant to any role in our profession, the utility of social media can be highly underappreciated. The landscape of laboratory medicine is full of generalists, specialists, supervisory positions, and a never-ending list of professional clinicians all united through our work for improving patient care. Within that landscape, what social media provides is nothing more than the digitization of professional development already happening all the time! Conferences, case studies, presentations, helpful pieces of practical lab medicine insight—these happen between colleagues every day. Connecting laboratory professionals across disciplines and scopes is what makes our profession dynamic and expansive. Instead of peer-to-peer connectivity, online collaboration opens the floodgates for innumerable interactions on topics relevant to lab data and patient outcomes. Any scientist will agree; a larger sample size means more significant results.
But more than just discussing pieces of pathology knowledge across anatomic and clinical specialties, digital connectivity can make applicants shine to jobs or postgraduate training positions in a way that was never possible before. For Constantine Kanakis (@CEKanakisMD), the experience of transitioning from medical laboratory scientist to medical student matriculant to residency match applicant was uniquely juxtaposed to the typical MS4 profile. Rather than “blacking out” his social media presence on various platforms, he “weaponized” it—making a loud and proud impact on the profession he feels passionate about. Through this, he connected with many more programs than his seemingly average paper application would have engaged. He can even anecdotally report several interviews (and laboratory-related speaking engagements during the peak of the COVID pandemic), which stemmed directly from the activity on Twitter. This is proof positive that a social media-driven paradigm shift is possible when it comes to applying for residency: especially in the new, digital era of video conference interviews and online open house sessions.
The social media advantage doesn’t end when your training starts. It continues far beyond training days, with possible successes in job hunting, name recognition, and scholarship opportunities. For Kamran Mirza (@KMirza), social media has been a platform to educate and network far beyond the bubble of just the department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at Loyola Medicine, or even the Chicagoland area. Educators are no longer in silos. We are educating globally, 24/7. As Dr. Jerad Gardner (@JMGardnerMD) so aptly said, we are educating even as we sleep. From creating social-media-derived collaborative opportunities, projects, papers, or plenaries, there is no limit to what collaborative networking online can achieve.
Social media-driven collaborative efforts have proven to be wildly successful and genuinely define a "next generation" of such ventures. While too many to describe this narrative, the following pathology and laboratory medicine related collaborations are worth mentioning.
The collaborative aspect of pathology Twitter and social networking came to life with endeavors such as pathelective.com. The COVID-19 pandemic shut down all in-person education activities in pathology departments. In the wake of this, pathology faculty continued to struggle to find ways that increased student exposure to pathology and laboratory medicine to health sciences students. The PathElective website came about by a collaborative effort of over 50 faculty, curated from the pathology Twitter world. The result was a free, modular, interactive website that exposes medical students, medical laboratory science students, pathology residents, and anyone else interested in pathology and laboratory medicine to high-quality anatomic, clinical, and molecular pathology modules in the convenience of their homes. The rapid implementation (the website went up in one month from start to finish) and effectiveness of this website is proof positive of the extremely successful collaborative environment and professional networking that is present on social media platforms.
The reach of collaborative efforts online began long before pandemic conditions relegated work and learning to social-distance models. Started in 2016, PathCast is a compendium of lectures in a multitude of pathology specialties, hosted and curated by Dr. Emilio Madrigal (@EMadrigalDO) and Dr. Rafat Mannan (@mannanrifat03) in New York. Together, they have amassed over 120 videos hosted across YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter garnering over 560,000 followers/viewers across all three platforms (data current as of October 20, 2020). Featuring a wide variety of faculty across numerous, globally recognized institutions, the PathCast channel continues to broadcast on current topics facing pathologists. Specific topics featured on this channel run a spectrum of pathology-related content including diagnostic criteria for various anatomic pathology specialties, discussions on autopsy practices, transfusion medicine considerations, and (as of late) implications of SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 in laboratory medicine. This on-demand lecture series includes content from 23,000 pathologists in over 170 countries and remains free at pathologycast.com and on social media as @PathologyCast. Available all over the world, at any time, and across a multitude of platforms, PathCast continues to remain a successful forum for pathology discourse in real time.
The formality of lecture series may not always lend itself to inherent collaboration, despite riveting question-and-answer sessions. As one of many attempts to bridge the gap between knowledge and applied practice, MedLabChat: an interactive, interdisciplinary, and collaborative recurring feature managed by Maria Roussakis (@MedLabMaria), a medical laboratory scientist, in Toronto, Ontario. A relatively new undertaking, less than a year old, this is a version of topic discussions under a unifying hashtag on Twitter (#MedLabChat), where any user can participate in an interactive, curated discussion. The MedLabChat series has featured a variety of discussions that have tackled everything from professional development strategies, the scope and practice of medical laboratory professionals, to graduate/advanced opportunities in the field. The discussions last approximately one hour, have four or so question prompts, and are filled with fruitful conversation and excellent perspectives. A truly collaborative approach, each month’s topic includes various “guest experts” to enrich the discussion; the Canadian-American partnership is promoted and curated for a global interactive audience by both Ms. Roussakis and Dr. Rodney Rhode (@RodneyRhode) at Texas State University. Supported by many in the medical laboratory community, numerous participants celebrate the success of this and many other “chats” on Twitter by measuring the impacts and impressions recorded through analytic software tools, thus further attracting supportive participants and creating meaningful, interprofessional, and interdisciplinary dialogue.
Journal clubs are a staple hallmark of academic departments. Faculty and trainees come together to discuss, critique, and explore peer-reviewed literature. The Twitter world embraced this trend with journal clubs that are held entirely in the virtual, social media space. #DermpathJC #HemepathJC and many more examples exist of these efforts which take place on Twitter periodically and are open to all. Given that like-minded scientists and physicians come together to discuss a topic of interest the networking aspects of these ventures are innumerable. Often, the authors of the papers themselves come and participate in journal clubs discussing their own articles! Imagine the impact of being able to get information (and possibly collaborate) directly from the source of the material!
The reader might wonder whether, in academics, these social media efforts are appreciated or given credit as scholarship required by promotion and tenure committees. Well, there is good news. Social media scholarship is now being folded in as accepted criteria for promotion and tenure applications. This is not just in the pathology and laboratory medicine world, but this positive change is blossoming in many healthcare-related specialties and within the subspecialties of medicine and surgery. Should you choose to be an active voice on social media platforms, your online presence can be a sort of “supplementary CV” of professional interaction and most academic institutions are starting to see and appreciate this. As a result, professional networking in these spaces can be double-dipped as scholarly activities as well for the ultimate boost to one’s CV and portfolio.
Networking has indeed taken on a new face. Gone are the days of old where networking was an in-person, tactile endeavor. Social media is far from perfect. There is vitriol, polarizing politics, and negativity to which social media is not immune. However, when it comes to social media profiles that are professional, and curated for educational and networking purposes, in the opinion of the authors, the benefits definitely outweigh the risks. Relationships and networks created within the social media space have proven to be successful, symbiotic, and very real. The utilization of this platform for professional networking is highly recommended. If done carefully and correctly it will boost your network to the next level.