Intended for healthcare professionals


How Twitter can enrich professional development

BMJ 2016; 352 doi: (Published 17 March 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;352:i1327
  1. Christopher J McAloon, cardiology research fellow1 2,
  2. Stephen D J Makin, clinical lecturer in geriatric medicine3,
  3. David R Warriner, cardiology registrar4,
  4. Karl D F M Norrington, cardiology registrar and National Institute for Health Research academic clinical fellow5 6,
  5. Rohin Francis, cardiology registrar7,
  6. Eilidh McGinnigle, cardiology research fellow3,
  7. Adam W Seccombe, acute medicine registrar8
  1. 1Department of Cardiology, University Hospital Coventry
  2. 2Warwick Medical School
  3. 3Glasgow Cardiovascular Research Centre, University of Glasgow
  4. 4Department of Cardiology, Northern General Hospital, Sheffield
  5. 5Department of Cardiology, Royal London Hospital
  6. 6Institute of Cardiovascular Science, University College London
  7. 7Papworth Hospital, Cambridge
  8. 8Clinical Decisions Unit, University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust
  1. Correspondence to: C McAloon christopher.mcaloon{at}


Christopher McAloon and colleagues look at how using Twitter and other social media can help support doctors’ professional development.

In an era of evidence and guideline based medicine, staying abreast of the latest developments provides a constant challenge to busy doctors. Online continuing professional development (CPD) and learning are now an established part of modern medical practice and complement traditional formats, such as conferences and grand rounds.

Over the past decade the rise of social media has revolutionised the digital landscape. Many doctors now consider this an important part of their CPD and engagement with the profession as a whole.

Social media are digital interfaces that allow for a rapid exchange of ideas and content, professional and personal. One of the most popular of the many social media platforms is Twitter. Twitter allows short public posts, tweets, to be viewed by a network of followers. These tweets can be tagged with a hashtag phrase and circulated by followers through retweeting.

Given the need for CPD, many doctors find Twitter’s diverse information and speed of dissemination highly attractive. Social media as a whole represent an exciting new frontier that has developed naturally from e-learning. They facilitate professional networking and collaboration on projects, the dissemination of evidence, and engagement with patients. Social media encourage a new grassroots approach to improvement and engagement whose importance is being increasingly acknowledged.

The “twittersphere” is not without its potential risks. Concerns include breaching patient confidentiality, undermining public trust, and a lack of accountability.

The General Medical Council advises that doctors should identify themselves by name when using social media if they also identify themselves as a doctor. This means that one rash moment could lead to professional compromise.

Clinicians use Twitter to enrich their medical education experience. Hashtags such as #MedEd, #CardioEd and #AcuteMed link tweets concerning medical, cardiology, and acute medical education, respectively. You can engage with relevant nuggets of information from an experienced or expert user and use tweets to incorporate images, link to external content, or create multiple choice questions.

Journals and journal clubs

Medical journals have an increasing social media presence, using it to link to their articles and online content, and this changes the way we engage with the literature. Moreover, Twitter adds a whole new dimension to conferences. A conference hashtag allows participants to disseminate the information in presentations, discuss the content with one another, and follow fellow participants.

An exciting use of Twitter is the remote journal club. Conflicting clinical commitments can make participation in traditional journal clubs difficult. But the reach of a social media driven journal club is impressive: a 12 month study of the monthly International Urology Journal Club (@iurojc) demonstrated regular engagement by 189 unique users across 19 countries.

The varied perspectives among an international audience can lead to exciting discussion of the latest evidence. Mindful of this, we, the authors of this article, set up @GIMJClub to counter a lack of general internal medicine (GIM) content on social media platforms. Within a month it had 163 unique followers, showing an appetite for debate and discussion of GIM articles.


The recent junior doctor contract debate in England resulted in an unprecedented mobilisation of junior doctors through Facebook and Twitter (#JuniorContract), which facilitated the emergence of a coherent and united voice and strong engagement with the public. A 60 000 member Facebook group became a crucial forum for debate and the dissemination of real time updates, consulted by doctors and the press.

Other examples of medical use of social media include the Sepsis-6 Campaign, aimed at combating poor adherence to guidance through an innovative multicentre strategy. And West Midlands acute medicine trainees used social media to collaborate in regional projects, leading to the completion of larger and potentially more meaningful audit and research projects instead of the previous individual projects.

Increasingly, YouTube too is being used to disseminate information to patients, but video targeted at healthcare professionals remains sparse. Nevertheless, an Irish study found that medical students reported YouTube as a key source of anatomy learning.

Social media are an integral part of the digital revolution and have benefits for CPD, network formation, and collaboration, as well as some pitfalls. Because of the diverse pathways through which people learn, consideration of novel learning would be beneficial to everyone.