Residency: Boston University School of Medicine
Specialty: Internal Medicine
Background: Dr. Pho is the founder and editor of KevinMD.com, social media’s leading physician voice, and gives frequent Grand Rounds and keynote speeches as a social media physician speaker. His columns regularly appear in USA Today, where he is a member of the editorial Board of Contributors, as well as CNN.com and the New York Times.
Please describe your typical work day and what it’s like to balance your career as a physician and a blogger.
Managing a full-time primary care practice and exploring the intersection between medicine, health care, and social media requires a definite commitment.
My day starts at 4 a.m., where I spend a few hours writing both for my blog, as well as mainstream publications like USA Today and CNN.com. Then I start my clinic day and see patients from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The evenings are reserved for my kids and family.
It’s tremendously rewarding to be at the forefront of medicine’s embrace of social media. One way I use my blog, along with my presence on Twitter and Facebook, is to engage in the health care conversation. I bring issues that concern doctors, such as the primary care shortage, medical malpractice, physician burnout, and the erosion of the doctor-patient relationship, to the front of the national mindset.
What advice do you have for medical school applicants when it comes to using social media?
First, I would say that anything medical students write on Facebook and Twitter will stay with them throughout their careers. So, use common sense, and maintain patient privacy. Don’t blog, Tweet, or take a picture of anything that you may regret later. Hospital credentialing committees regularly Google applicants, so whatever you post on a social network in the past will come up again.
Next, I would discuss how social media can help patients. Eighty percent of Internet users look for health information online, yet only a quarter of them check the source of what they read. That can lead a lot of patients to inaccurate, or worse, harmful data. A blog, for instance, written by an unscrupulous individual, can have as much power as an authoritative health site. Social media gives physicians a tremendous opportunity to wield their professional influence and to connect with patients online in order to guide them to reputable sources of health information.
Why did you choose to go in to primary care?
The United States needs more primary care physicians. Come 2014, more than 32 million newly insured patients will enter our health system looking for a physician to care for them. Most will find it difficult to find a primary care doctor. I chose primary care almost a decade ago knowing there was already a shortage. And it’s one that has only gotten worse over time.
Please describe your participation in special programs such as volunteer work, research, or study-abroad opportunities during medical school or residency.
In 2009, I used my social media presence to raise money for the United Way of Greater Nashua (NH) in the KevinMD.comThanksgiving Drive. I donated $1 for every new Twitter and Facebook follower, and encouraged others through social media to spread the word and match my donation. All told, $1,000 was raised over two weeks.
What advice do you have for new applicants considering a career in medicine?
Don’t get boxed into what you want to do too early. When I was in medical school, Facebook and Twitter didn’t exist, and blogs were in their infancy. Now, social media is a major part of my professional identity as a physician. It definitely wasn’t a part of my medical training, and shows how your medical career can evolve even from the best-laid plans.
Do you have any other thoughts to share?
Whatever field medical students decide to pursue, it’s essential to maintain a healthy balance between work, family, and personal time. Physician burnout is on the rise, and that not only adversely affects doctors, but patients too. I wrote a column in USA Today on the issue, saying, “studies show these doctors exhibit less empathy, which erodes the doctor-patient relationship. More ominous is how physician burnout can lead to medical mistakes.”
Make a concerted effort to spend time away from the clinic or hospital. It’s imperative that doctors take care of themselves, in addition to their patients.