The Science of Social Media

Instapath blog (2022, April)

What began as an avenue for Hollywood celebrities to share what they had for breakfast, Twitter has evolved from novelty to utility with physicians at the wheel driving science 280 characters at a time. We ventured into the worlds of #NephTwitter, #DermPath, #4n6 and #CardioTwitter, in addition to #colorectal-surgery and #oncotwitter, to find out how eight leading physicians in these pockets of Twitter are utilizing social media (SoMe) in their careers. With a combined Twitter following of over 145K followers and tweets that capture the attention of changemakers, high-impact journals and organizations/institutions across the globe, these physician-influencers are making waves on social media and in their respective specialties. Let’s meet our influencers!

Deepak L. Bhatt, MD, MPH (@DLBhattMD) - Cardiologist, Brigham and Women’s

Nicole Jackson, MD, MPH, FASCP (@NicoleJacksonMD) – Forensic Pathologist, King County Medical Examiner’s Office/University of Washington Department of Laboratory Medicine & Pathology

Erin King-Mullins, MD, FACS, FASCRS (@EKing719)– Colorectal Surgeon, Georgia Colon and Rectal Surgical Associates

Christine Ko, MD (@ChristineJKoMD) - Dermatologist/Dermatopathologist, Yale University

Matthew Sparks, MD (@Nephro_Sparks) - Nephrologist, Duke University

Joel Topf, MD, FACP (@kidney_boy) - Nephrologist, St. Clair Nephrology

Jack West, MD (@JackWestMD) - Medical Oncologist, City of Hope

Steven Wexner, MD, PhD, FACS (@Swexner) - Colorectal Surgeon, Cleveland Clinic Florida

SoMe motivation

What got these influencers tweeting to begin with? Dr. Deepak L. Bhatt told us, “I joined Twitter in 2009 to get the word out about research and trainees I’m involved with. Twitter helps to amplify the message and awareness of research.” Dr. Nicole Jackson told us, “In 2018, I was encouraged to create a professional Twitter account while attending the Association of Pathology Chairs Annual Meeting where they discussed it being an easy way to connect and network with others in our small Pathology, and certainly Forensic Pathology, community across the nation and the globe.”


Like many activities, two physicians’ motivation to tweet was ignited by the pandemic. Dr. Christine Ko explained, “I started with Twitter during the pandemic because I was trying to think of things to do with my son who was home all day doing virtual school. We started making DermPath videos and posting them on YouTube but we weren’t getting much traffic. So, I started posting them on Twitter, and we started getting followers.” Dr. Erin King-Mullins, founder of Corona Mamas (@CoronaMama1), told us, “I started out seeking guidance and input from the physician-moms in the #MedTwitter world and quickly realized all moms, all parents, were going through difficulties due to the pandemic. We had quite a transition as my three stepdaughters had to transition to distance learning, and we had to manage co-parenting and the added stress and risks between travel between two households. This led to Corona Mamas, a safe haven for new and expecting moms and evolved into something for all moms.”


When opportunity knocks *tweets*

SoMe is saturated with opportunities to connect and collaborate on a global scale. Topping the follower count at 47.1K Twitter followers, Dr. Joel Topf explained, “My social media presence has resulted in many grand rounds, podcast appearances, review articles, and research collaborations. In early March I gave the Annual Mossey Memorial Medical Grand Rounds at North Shore University Hospital and Long Island Jewish Medical Center. This was a result of me being an active participant on social media. Similarly, I have edited two medical textbooks in the past five years due to connections I have made through social media.”


Dr. Matthew Sparks, Dr. Topf’s colleague and co-creator of an abundance of nephrology resources like the uber-popular #NephMadness, sees opportunities for awareness and understanding of other specialties. “I use Twitter to grow and learn and to be a better physician,“ he told us. “Twitter gives you a glimpse into other specialties that you wouldn't have had the opportunity to interact with on an everyday basis.” Dr. Jackson said, “One of the earliest opportunities presented to me was being a guest on Pathology Podcast (@PathPod) where I talked about being a Forensic Pathologist during the pandemic which then spawned multiple other podcast interviews and guest-hosting. Through Twitter, I was able to connect to other pathologists to compose the editorial “Reversing Historical Trends: The Crisis, the Challenge, and the Opportunity” assessing and addressing the lack of progress in diversity, equity, and inclusion in pathology, as well as form the Society of Black Pathologists (@SBPathologists) with other pathology and laboratory professionals who also were using Twitter. Through Twitter, I learned about the American Society for Clinical Pathology’s (ASCP) 40 Under Forty and was selected as a 2021 Top 6 Honoree, which then lead to multiple spotlights and featured articles to promote forensic pathology as a career choice, as well as my involvement in a national COVID-19 radio campaign through the ASCP to promote vaccination in areas with low vaccination rates. Additionally, I have been involved in multiple pathology open houses, webinars, and guest lectures through the platform, as well as have been able to mentor trainees around the globe. I have also received multiple requests to appear on talk shows and in documentaries.”


Dr. Steven Wexner told us, “Twitter has given me the unique opportunity to mentor aspiring and seasoned physicians who I’ve never met in person from around the world including Egypt, Nigeria, Nepal, Europe, and Latin America, as well as across the US and Canada. I’ve utilized Twitter to connect physicians, disseminate educational content, share dialogue, and recruit participants in scientific study. I have also published and lectured on the tremendous value of Twitter and have created a Twitter team for the Surgery (@SurgJournal), the journal for which I am an Editor-in-Chief. Twitter is also one of the platforms on which I focus to disseminate educational content in my role as Communications Consultant to the American College of Surgery (@AmCollSurgeons). Twitter is a tremendously powerful tool.”


Dr. King-Mullins said, “I'd truly like to say I have found some 'friends' on the outlet. It has allowed connections and even collaborations. I've been on the Karen Hunter Show on SiriusXM as a result of social media. At first because of Corona Mamas, but then it morphed into interviews about colorectal cancer and even anal cancer. I've even been a part of a little Twitter war which led to me writing a blog piece for bioethics today. I would say the biggest opportunity for me has been the ability to learn, grow, and obtain validation for unapologetically just being me.”


SoMe in the classroom

SoMe is so prolific within the nephrology community that an internship was created to educate future nephrologists on how to become curators and creators of FOAMed (free open access medical education) utilizing SoMe. Similar to the Digital Communications Fellowship for pathologists, the Nephrology Social Media Collective (NSMC)Internship (@NSMCInternship), led by Dr. Sparks, teaches students how to engage with their profession through the Collective’s plethora of nephrology FOAMed resources like the “Freely Filtered” podcast, NephJC, The Nephron Segment Podcast, Renal Fellow Network and NephSIM. Recognized by the NSMC internship as “currently the best way to communicate ideas and share experiences in social media”, Twitter mastery is an essential skill learned by these budding physician-influencers who will become the voice of #NephTwitter. “There are many young nephrologists and trainees who have used social media since middle school. They are already adding to the richness of social media and foretelling a bright future,” said Dr. Topf, executive board member and faculty of the internship.

In addition to internships and fellowships, for some specialties SoMe activity via Twitter journal clubs can fulfill continuing medical education requirements. In 2016, the Journal of Hospital Medicine (@JHospMedicine) became the first Internal Medicine, PubMed-indexed journal to reward participants with Category 1 AMA CME credit for participation in their Twitter JCs.[1] In September 2019, #ASEchoJC was the first moderated cardiology journal club on Twitter to offer CME credit.[2] Duke University Orthopedics (#adultrecon) and the Society for Vascular Medicine also offer CME credits via their Twitter JCs.[1]


Good vibes only

SoMe can be notoriously negative, and it can also be a place of positivity and inspiration. “I unfollow people on a regular basis. I try to take the temperature of my Twitter timeline and if it becomes too political, too jokey, too whiny, or is bringing me down I will prune people to keep Twitter a positive moment rather than a dark cloud,” Dr. Topf told us.

Dr. Jackson explained, “#PathTwitter was forged by individuals who wanted to use this virtual space for education, recruitment, and networking. The Pathology realm of Twitter tends to be a positive space full of encouragement and knowledge sharing. That being said, conflicts still occur on the platform and when they do I typically refrain from jumping into the discussion – unless it is an argument centered on misinformation in an area I have expertise in (ex: COVID-19 or fentanyl disinformation). I am also selective with who I follow. While I enjoy following people who do different things and hold different views than me, I avoid following those who tweet hateful and/or inflammatory things.”


“I don’t post anything that may be inappropriate or may turn someone off. I have patients of all backgrounds, political parties, and religions. Patients may be on Twitter or they may Google me before seeing me. A tweet exists forever, even if you delete it. Whatever you are posting, make sure it’s something of which you can be proud,” advised Dr. Bhatt. “Authenticity still matters on social media,” Dr. Jack West told us. “There is always the potential for haters, and you’ll find a lot of humble bragging, corporate messaging and PR instead of insightful conversation. If I’m going to respond to a tweet, it’s going to be in my own voice.” Dr. Sparks added, “Creating communities is important in anything you do. Social media is just another public avenue for people to connect. It’s an extension of your normal everyday life. If you treat it this way, you should have low risk for any problems.”


Social media platforms like Twitter, when used thoughtfully, are an effective tool to network, collaborate, teach and learn. Are you a physician-influencer? We’re putting together part two of The Science of Social Media and we are interviewing physicians in all specialties. We’ll be talking Tik Tok, science celebrities and the K-index, and more! Just email Kristin at or DM us on Twitter at @instapathbio.



1. Desai, T. Merging the Traditional with the New CME-accredited Twitter Journal Clubs. medRxiv 2020 Apr 04. doi:

2. Thamman R, Desai T, Weiner D, Swaminathan M. #ASEchoJC Twitter Journal Club To CME: a paradigm shift in cardiology education. J Am Soc Echocardiogr 2020;33:A29–A35.