There are plenty of well-known reasons to steer clear of social media. It’s time consuming, it can affect your wellbeing, and — for physicians, especially — there can be some risk.

Still, 70 percent of physicians use social media for professional purposes, and 90 percent use it for personal purposes.

“Social media is still a very strong tool, both for professional and personal development,” Dr. Aarti Sarwal said during the most recent meeting of the American Academy of Neurology. “Social media can be a very impactful platform in describing to the world your values, your purpose, your social causes, your science, your educational activities, and your achievements.”

Personal vs. Professional Use

Sarwal, a neurointensivist at Wake Forest Baptist Health, describes herself as an avid social media user of late. She is also the social media editor for two journals, Critical Care Medicine and Neurocritical Care.

On a personal level, she uses social media to rejuvenate, find connection, and for accountability, especially for working out and tending to her personal wellness.

Professionally, she says the benefits have been even more plentiful. This has been especially apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic, as new research and treatment methods were shared widely on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

“The world’s a village thanks to social media,” Sarwal says. “Innovation in the medical care of COVID patients was disseminated within seconds for people across the world.”

Subscribing to the feeds of journals in her field, Sarwal says, has enabled her to keep up with the latest scientific research far more efficiently. In some sense, she said, it’s like a journal club, with links to new research right at your fingertips.

Social media has also allowed Sarwal to connect with her peers in meaningful ways. The Women in Neurology Facebook group is “not just an impactful, collaborative network of professional women, but also a safe network for bouncing around ideas … looking for opportunities, and transforming them into [action],” she says.

Capitalizing Online

The rewards of using social media are clear — but to make the most of them, she says you need a plan and solid rules for its use.

Start by finding your purpose. Then do your homework, pick the right platform for that purpose, and observe. Sarwal calls this listening with intent: She was on social media platforms for seven years prior to posting anything.

As you list, filter and block what is triggering for you, find your tribe, and build up the feeds that benefit your purpose the most.

Then, before you start posting yourself, make sure you understand the social media rules for your profession and your specific workplace. These can offer valuable guidance to help prevent serious missteps that could get you fired or sued.

Next, Sarwal says to establish strict rules of use for yourself. She never connects with patients or their relatives on social media. She doesn’t use it when she is with company. Sarwal turns off notifications and sets aside times to view her feeds.