Social media use among physicians jumped during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the role it may play in networking, mentorship and support among ophthalmologists remains a mystery.
Bonnie He, MD, a resident at the Dalhousie University Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, led a team of researchers from several universities across North America on a study1 with a goal to elucidate how ophthalmologists use social media for navigating challenges related to personal and professional development.
According to a news release, the study was a cross-sectional survey study conducted during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. A 40-item questionnaire investigating the usage of social media was developed and distributed to active social media users in ophthalmology including trainees and practitioners from November 2020 to December 2020 via social media channels. Quantitative responses were analyzed using descriptive and basic statistics, while a thematic analysis was conducted to examine the qualitative responses.
The survey included 149 respondents (67% women), with 56% of participants between the ages of 25–35 years old. Women were more likely to report experiencing workplace discrimination (p < 0.005) and work-life imbalance (p < 0.05) compared to men, and social media was found to be useful in addressing those challenges in addition to parenting and mentorship (p < 0.005 and p < 0.001, respectively). Compared to their older counterparts, younger ophthalmologists (<45 years old) cited more challenges with practice management (p < 0.005) and turned to social media for corresponding guidance (p < 0.05). Compared to late career ophthalmologists, trainees were more likely to report difficulties with career development (p < 0.05), practice management (p < 0.0001), and financial planning (p < 0.05), and found social media beneficial for learning financial literacy (p < 0.05). A qualitative analysis of the free-response texts found both positive and negative viewpoints of social media use in ophthalmology.
Social Media Usage
According to the study, the overwhelming majority of respondents (94%) reported having a professional social media account with the top three most popular platforms being Instagram (25.2%), LinkedIn (22.6%), and Facebook (19.6%). The majority (64%) of participants reported spending at least one hour daily on social media with nearly one-fifth (19%) spending more than 2 hours per day.
The five most common reasons respondents reported using social media were: to stay in touch with family, to promote their practice and/or professional services, to educate patients and/or the public about ophthalmology, to share interesting clinical and/or surgical cases with colleagues in their field, and to find mentorship and/or networking opportunities.
“While there have been studies highlighting the value of mentorship in ophthalmology residency programs,2-4 social media offers an untapped potential for longitudinal guidance and support in dimensions that extend beyond the spheres of clinical training including practice management, financial planning, and work-life balance,” the researchers wrote. “Our study found significant differences in the personal and professional challenges experienced by different demographic groups, and noteworthy ways by which social media may be harnessed to mitigate those challenges. We also noted some positive and negative themes on the impact of social media in ophthalmology.”
The study also found that women were increasingly likely to report challenges with workplace discrimination and work-life balance compared to men. However, factors for exactly why women experience workplace discrimination and work-life issues more often than their male counterparts hinges on several issues, and a number of studies have detailed these issues compared to male physicians, female physicians were more likely to experience burnout, especially those who encounter gender discrimination, gender biases, and barriers to professional advancement in the workplace.5-7 Moreover, while the percentage of women physicians has slowly risen over the past few decades globally, the representation of women in surgical fields has not kept pace.8
Social media is an invaluable tool for enhancing professional and personal growth for ophthalmologists, particularly for women, trainees, and younger surgeons through education and community-building. Future directions include exploring how social media can be used to improve mentorship, outreach, and training in ophthalmology.
“Our study explored the various reasons for social media use among ophthalmologists, focusing specifically on its role in overcoming personal and professional challenges during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the researchers concluded. “For many ophthalmologists, especially women, trainees, and those early in their career stages, social media is an invaluable tool for education and community-building.”
1 Bonnie He, MD, Stuti M. Tanya, Fiona Costello, Femida Kherani, Neda Shamie, Dagny Zhu; Navigating Personal and Professional Development Through Social Media in Ophthalmology. Clinical Ophthalmology. Published July 7, 2022. Doi.rg/10.2147/OPTH.s368674
2 Nassrallah G, Arora S, Kulkarni S, Hutnik CML. Perspective on a formal mentorship program in ophthalmology residency. Can J Ophthalmol. 2017;52(4):321–322. doi:10.1016/j.jcjo.2017.03.005
3 Olivier MMG, Forster S, Carter KD, Cruz OA, Lee PP. Lighting a pathway: the minority ophthalmology mentoring program. Ophthalmology. 2020;127(7):848–851. doi:10.1016/j.ophtha.2020.02.021
4 Tsai JC, Lee PP, Chasteen S, Taylor RJ, Brennan MW, Schmidt GE. Resident physician mentoring program in ophthalmology: the Tennessee experience. Arch Ophthalmol. 2006;124(2):264–267. doi:10.1001/archopht.124.2.264
5 Patel RS, Bachu R, Adikey A, Malik M, Shah M. Factors related to physician burnout and its consequences: a review. Behav Sci. 2018;8(11):98. doi:10.3390/bs8110098
6 McMurray JE, Linzer M, Konrad TR, Douglas J, Shugerman R, Nelson K. The work lives of women physicians results from the physician work life study. The SGIM career satisfaction study group. J Gen Intern Med. 2000;15(6):372–380. doi:10.1111/j.1525-1497.2000.im9908009.x
7 Chesak SS, Cutshall S, Anderson A, Pulos B, Moeschler S, Bhagra A. Burnout among women physicians: a call to action. Curr Cardiol Rep. 2020;22(7):45–46. doi:10.1007/s11886-020-01300-6
8 de Costa J, Chen-Xu J, Bentounsi Z, Vervoort D. Women in surgery: challenges and opportunities. IJS Global Health. 2018;1:1.