SoMe4Trauma (Social Media for Trauma) is an educational initiative on Twitter that brings trauma surgery and education into focus on social media. The initiative originated as an independent Twitter account July 5, 2019, under the umbrella of the bigger and older SoMe4Surgery* (Social Media for Surgery) community. Since then, SoMe4Surgery has thrived as an active niche where trauma surgeons and other trauma care professionals from around the world can participate in various educational activities and discussions online.
The instigation of social distancing during the coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has affected surgical education profoundly and also has given rise to a new era of distance learning and virtual meetings. Educational activities such as grand rounds, departmental meetings, lectures for board residents, and conferences are now taking place virtually via social media platforms. Social media has the added benefit of connecting professionals from different parts of the globe. The virtualization of a substantial portion of surgical education is inevitable, and social media is the perfect tool to help achieve that goal.
The SoMe4Trauma community follows the “Seven C’s model”—communication, creativity, collaboration, content, character, commitment, and credibility-conduct. The model can serve as a blueprint for surgeons in all specialties who intend to create their own educational communities online. The advice given here may be more appropriate for use on Twitter, but many principles are universal and may be extrapolated for use on other platforms.
Once you establish an account on Twitter for your educational community, it is important to gather an audience of followers. This objective cannot be achieved by passively waiting for users to follow your account. Communication is key and is done by actively inviting surgeons to follow you, whether by tweeting them in public or sending them private messages. It is important to reach out to surgeons who are recognized in the surgical community or who are influential on Twitter and have a large number of followers, as they will enrich the educational environment, as well as attract users to follow your account.
Off line communication is just as important; you can directly invite colleagues, residents, and medical students to follow your account.
Creative approaches to delivering knowledge helps attract the attention of your followers and creates an enjoyable learning environment. It does not suffice to tweet random surgical facts. The 10th edition of the American College of Surgeons Advanced Trauma Life Support® (ATLS®) Provider Course employs interactive discussions instead of didactic lectures,† because candidates retain information better when they are allowed to participate actively. Carrying this approach as a model into the virtual world, followers should be engaged in discussions, interviews, and debates. They also can be challenged through case scenarios, operative images, quizzes, and video clips.
A particularly authentic activity on SoMe4Trauma has been the weekly Mattox Monday, where followers interact directly with pioneer trauma surgeon Kenneth Mattox, MD, FACS, professor and vice-chairman of surgery, general surgery division, Michael E. DeBakey Department of Surgery, Baylor College of Medicine, Dallas, TX. This example shows how surgeons who may be in low-resource countries can gain access to successful online mentorship from a highly esteemed surgeon.
Collaborating with mentors and consultant surgeons helps create a team of online faculty. However, it is equally essential to collaborate with the younger generation of surgeons, namely fellows, residents, and medical students. They add enthusiasm and eagerness as mentees and also act as young mentors themselves, teaching and guiding one another.
Collaboration should not happen solely on an individual level, but rather should include institutions, surgical associations, and journals—most of which run their own accounts on social media.
Interaction on social media carries the risk of creating noise and promoting misinformation. Hence, an online educational account should offer controlled and meaningful content in the form of valid scientific discourse. A useful method of controlling the educational content on SoMe4Trauma has involved following a surgical curriculum and posting a schedule of activities that take place on a specific day at an exact time and tackling a certain topic in trauma surgery. For example, a discussion on the surgical management of liver injury took place October 27, 2019, at 3:00 pm Eastern Time.
Summarizing information from discussions is a useful way to convert tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge that surgeons can apply in everyday practice. Figure 1 quotes slides posted following a Mattox Monday session on trauma resuscitation; points raised during the discussion were summarized into concise tips in simple language for followers to read and reflect on.
When setting up an online educational account, you can learn from the success of others and pick up on trends in surgical education. However, you must be careful to distinguish the difference between inspiration and imitation. Plagiarism is unacceptable even in a virtual world and reflects negatively on an academic surgeon. Your community must exhibit a character that is unique to you. For instance, Mattox Monday is unique to SoMe4Trauma.
Using hashtags that are specific to your community is another way followers can identify your exclusive and unique content; for example #SoMe4Trauma, #MattoxMonday, and so on.
The success of an online educational community is a function of the time and effort individuals invest in it. Faculty members and followers of SoMe4Trauma contribute their own time, including weekends and holidays, to prepare content and participate in various activities. Punctuality and adherence to deadlines are critical; you must ensure that activities start at the proposed time and that content is delivered exactly as promised.
Credibility and professional conduct are intertwined and vital to success. How the individual members of a community behave online reflects on the community as a whole.
Credibility is built and projected through various characteristics. Punctuality is one. Another is vetting of the material before it is posted to avoid spreading misinformation. Credibility also includes acknowledging authorship and copyrights, especially if you post quotes, surgical aphorisms, journal articles, or excerpts from books. Most authors and medical publishers can be found online and tagged as an acknowledgment of their ownership of their original work.
Finally, a healthy learning environment is tolerant and inclusive. A code of conduct should be developed and made available to all users, which will let your followers know that your community will not tolerate discrimination, racism, religious or political extremism, and so on. See Figure 2 for the code of conduct SoMe4Trauma developed for users who wanted to participate in a debate between trauma and vascular surgeons.
COVID-19 accelerated the need for online surgical education and is likely to remain a key component of lifelong learning in the future. Social media platforms can help deliver this exchange of knowledge on a global scale, and the Seven C’s model used by the SoMe4Trauma initiative can be used as a baseline for setting up any surgical online community.
*Grossman RC, Mackenzie DG, Keller D, et al. #SoMe4Surgery: From inception to impact. BMJ Innovations. 2020;6(2):72-82.
†The Committee on Trauma. Advanced Trauma Life Support Course Administration and Faculty Guide. Chicago, IL: American College of Surgeons; 2018.