Is it just us, or is #PathTwitter exploding? The education, the camaraderie, the expertise shared among pathologists is certainly one-of-a-kind, both in the medical field and in the professional world. Enamored, we started digging into #PathTwitter, it’s content, it’s beginnings. It was clear to us, Dr. Jerad Gardner (@JMGardnerMD) was a prominent figure in the birth of not just #PathTwitter, but using different social media platforms to teach and advocate for pathology. We had so many questions for Dr. Gardner about his Twitter presence (28K followers and counting), YouTube videos, even patient support via Facebook. So we did what any professional would do - we sent him a DM on Twitter. He was up to talk about pathology and social media, so we did just that. We wanted to share this communication with the greater pathology community and knew a blog post was in order. So, we present to you our convo with Dr. Gardner.
You connected social media with pathology very early on. What untapped opportunities did you see?
At first, I mostly used Facebook for sharing pathology content. Then, I gave a small round table talk about social media at the CAP 2013 meeting in Orlando. It sold out, so they asked me to give the same talk again the next day. It sold out, too. A few months later, I gave another social media lecture at USCAP 2014 in San Diego. It was a "practice changers" session, an open lecture given in the exhibit hall area. So many people came to the lecture that it was standing room only. These events made me realize that the pathology community had a great interest in how to use social media professionally. I had some experience with social media, so I felt that I should build on that and help teach others how to do it. I had used Twitter a bit previously, but mostly for non-pathology things like tweeting about food. But at the USCAP 2014 meeting, I decided I should really invest myself completely into the professional use of social media. I started following other pathologists, tweeting about pathology, and it just exploded from there. I think I was just in the right place at the right time, to be honest!
What was your initial goal in tweeting when you first started?
I love to teach. Twitter and other social media platforms gave me a platform to share diagnostic pearls and images of pathology cases to a larger audience of learners. Over time that has expanded and my goals have evolved a bit. There are now many pathologists from all over the world sharing cases and teaching, so educational tweets are abundant. I feel my goals and interests are now more about building the global pathology community, helping pathologists who are new to Twitter learn how to use it (and promoting those accounts so others will connect with them and follow them), and advocating for our specialty to other areas of medicine and to the general public. Of course, I still share a lot of educational tweets, too, but I do a lot of other things beyond just that now.
You're also very active on YouTube with regular posting of videos and over 30,000 subscribers. What motivated you to start your YouTube channel?
I made my first videos in 2013 to accompany a book chapter I wrote about desmoid fibromatosis. I tried to make my videos perfect, editing out all of the "ums" and the times I stumbled over my words. It took so much time and effort to do that, so I gave up on it and stopped making videos. Then in 2016, one of my medical students, Dr. Miki Lindsey (@MikiLindseyMD), now a pathology resident at University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (@pathologyUAMS), convinced me to make a video about normal skin histology aimed at medical students. I sat down with her and a couple of other trainees at the multiheaded microscope and just showed slides and talked as I recorded the session. I didn't make it perfect or polished, I just put it on YouTube as it was in raw form. People really liked it, and to this day it is still my most-watched pathology video on YouTube with over 130,000 views. I made a few videos after that, but then in 2018 my dermatopathology fellow, Dr. Edward Fulton (@EHFultonMD), convinced me to start making more videos at a faster pace. He would pick a topic, pull slides from my teaching collection, and come in at 7 am before work to sit with me and listen to me teach while I recorded a video. That got me into the habit of making more videos on a regular basis, and my channel really started to grow from there.
When I’ve traveled around the world to speak, multiple pathologists have told me that it was my videos more than anything else that helped their daily practice or understanding of dermatopathology or sarcoma pathology. Many have told me things like, "We do not have a dermatopathologist in our entire country; you are the only way we learn dermpath." And, "We do not have the opportunity to sit at the microscope and learn from our attending pathologists, but watching your videos is like sitting with you at the microscope." Those comments really moved me and made me realize that my videos were able to help pathologists (and their patients) even in the developing world, where educational resources (and financial means to pay for them) are scarce. That pushed me and inspired me to continue making videos and to try to make them more often. I credit my trainees and other pathologists for motivating me to build and expand my YouTube channel into what it is today. Without them, I probably never would have stuck with it.
You communicate with patient groups on Facebook. Can you tell us how that first started, how it has evolved and what benefits you've experienced communicating with patients?
I started volunteering in sarcoma patient support groups on Facebook in 2014. My goal was to teach them about their disease and about how we, as pathologists, diagnose it and other diseases. In the end, the patients actually taught me so much more than I have taught them. Not only have they taught me things I didn't know about their disease (even though I specialize in sarcomas!), but they also taught me so much about life and about what matters. I gave a TEDx talk in 2020 where I talked about how working with these groups has been an amazing, positive, life-changing experience for me: https://youtu.be/9aQSmx0A7pg.
How has being active on social media benefited you in your daily practice?
I learn so many new things on Twitter. I learn about new entities and diseases. I see new publications shared on Twitter before I would ever see them in a copy of the journal. I learn about how others in my subspecialty areas handle challenging scenarios in their practice. I learn different points of view about controversial entities and topics. Multiple times per week, I tell my residents and fellows something and then say, "I first learned that from Dr. So-and-so on Twitter." They are probably sick of me telling them that, but it's true. All of this is thanks to the excellent tweets from so many other amazing pathologists around the world. My colleagues on Twitter have made me a better pathologist and enabled me to provide better care for my real-life patients each day. I am very thankful to all of my friends and colleagues around the world on Twitter and other social media.
How do you do it all - Twitter, Facebook, YouTube - your postings on these platforms are seamless. How do you make time to stay active on social media?
I invest a lot of time in social media because it has become a huge part of my professional career. Not only do I use it a lot, but I also write peer-reviewed papers about it and give lectures about it (of the 230 invited lectures I've given in my career, 100 have been about social media). But I don't have to spend countless hours on social media every day. When I have extra time, I can spend more time on social media. When I have a very busy week of service, or when I'm trying to finish writing a paper or a book, or when I'm spending time with my family, I put my phone down and try to leave social media alone.
I use the Buffer App to schedule tweets and Facebook posts, so I can build 10 posts today, and then Buffer will release one per day to Twitter and Facebook and Instagram over the next 10 days (or you can set up a customized schedule any way you like). Then later I can go through my archive of old posts on Buffer and add previous posts back into my queue to be released again on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram. I've already done the work of creating a good post, why not re-use it? If a tweet is good today, it will still be good again in 3 months or next year. There will be different people (and new people) on Twitter at that time who didn't see the tweet the first time, so re-using old tweets is not only more efficient for me, but it also enables me to reach a wider audience. Now when you see the same tweet from me 3 times in 1 year, you will understand why!
I also use some tricks to make it faster for me to type tweets. I have a list of hashtags saved as text replacement on my iPhone. For example, when I type the letters "hpd" (it stands for hashtag pathology dermpath) into a tweet, it is automatically replaced by this list of hashtags: #pathology #pathologists #pathTwitter #dermpath #dermatology #dermatologia #dermtwitter. I have a variety of commonly used phrases and links and comments that I save as text replacement in my iPhone. It has saved me so much time. Tip: To do this on your iPhone, go to settings > general > keyboards > text replacement, then click the plus sign in the top right corner, type in whatever you want in the phrase section, then put a short string of letters or numbers (ones that you wouldn't normally use when typing) in the shortcut section. I believe Android phones have similar functionality.
Finally, YouTube saves me so much time. If there is common confusion about an entity or topic, I can just make a video about it. Then any time someone asks me about that topic, I just send them the link to my video. I spend 1 hour making the video once, and then I can use it repeatedly over the years to save time having to explain something multiple times. I use this not only to save time teaching others online, but also with my own trainees. It's not that I don't like teaching or explaining the same topic many times (I love teaching!), it's just that there are only so many hours in the day. If I can save time not explaining the same topic again and again, then I can put that time towards making a video about a topic I haven't covered yet. Once I have a video for every entity in dermpath and bone/soft tissue pathology, then I can retire! ;-) My YouTube videos are now viewed 24/7/365 (currently they receive an average of around 100 views every single hour of every day), so YouTube allows me to teach while I'm taking care of my patients at work, while I'm having dinner with my family, while I'm playing a game with my kids, even while I am sleeping. Once I realized this, it had a deep impact on me and made me realize that sharing teaching videos on YouTube is so very important. I currently devote most of my social media time to creating videos and sharing them. I really think videos will have the greatest and most lasting positive impact on other pathologists.
Thank you to Dr. Gardner for sharing his passion for social media and pathology. We’ve included links to Dr. Gardner’s resources below:
YouTube channel: https://m.youtube.com/user/JeradMGardnerMD
Twitter 101 guide: http://pathinfo.wikia.com/wiki/Social_Media_Guide_for_Pathologists
Complete organized library of all his videos, digital slides, pictures and sample pathology reports is available here: https://kikoxp.com/posts/5084 (dermpath) & https://kikoxp.com/posts/5083 (bone/soft tissue sarcoma pathology)
Dr. Jerad Gardner at his first social media lecture at CAP 2013 in Orlando, Florida
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