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Cumulative Micro-Mentorship: How Social Media Is Facilitating the Advancement of Female Physicians

Knoll, Miriam A. MD; Jagsi, Reshma MD, Phil

doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000002884
Letters to the Editor

Radiation oncologist, Department of Radiation Oncology, John Theurer Cancer Center, Hackensack, New Jersey;

Newman Family Professor and deputy chair, Department of Radiation Oncology, and director, Center for Bioethics and Social Sciences in Medicine, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Disclosures: None reported.

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To the Editor:

The eruption of physician engagement on social media platforms has created unprecedented opportunities for female physicians to connect with each other, transcending common networking barriers including location, specialty, institution, and age.1 This connectivity facilitates an exchange of ideas and the opportunity to address unsolved issues for women physicians in what we suggest should be recognized as a highly powerful form of “cumulative micro-mentorship.”

When a physician posts, “Has anyone ever dealt with a patient who insists on addressing you as ‘sweetie?’” she is asking the community both for advice and reassurance that her experience is not unique. The social media community can offer her tips on how to interact with this patient and set boundaries for the future. It can also provide information on how some health care institutions are addressing these issues, which she can share with her institutional leaders. These micro-mentoring relationships are invaluable because they are not singular; it is the repetitive and plural experience of the community that serves the individual so well. This support can build consensus for both characterizing the broader issue of sexual harassment and potential solutions. The #MeToo movement in medicine is only starting, and many women fear repercussions from engaging in the conversation publicly.2 Social media may mitigate barriers to discussing and addressing harassment when women micro-mentor each other by sharing experiences, ideas, tips, and resources.

Burnout is also a significant problem in medicine today—especially for female physicians who disproportionately face gender bias and domestic responsibilities3—but physicians can receive support via social media. For example, a physician may post, “My father just got admitted to the hospital; is it okay to cancel my clinic?” Or, “What is the best way to document in the electronic record to maximize productivity?” A hallmark of burnout is depersonalization; therefore, access to a community of support via social media may be effective in ameliorating burnout. Moreover, physicians who have successfully dealt with burnout can teach others how to work through it, both on the personal and institutional levels. Unresolved struggles in work–life integration can lead to burnout. These conflicts may be more easily resolved with advice from a community of micro-mentors.

Social media offers an unprecedented opportunity for female physicians in particular to both give and accept support in a repetitive and continual fashion but also to influence the overall systems within which they work to promote broader changes. The power of these micro-mentoring interactions must be recognized. Even with the limited scope of any individual interaction, the accumulation of feedback the system facilitates can have a large impact on the medical profession as a whole.

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1. Shillcutt SK, Silver JK. Social media and advancement of women physicians. N Engl J Med. 2018;378:2342–2345.
2. Jagsi R. Sexual harassment in medicine—#MeToo. N Engl J Med. 2018;378:209–211.
3. Spickard A Jr, Gabbe SG, Christensen JF. Mid-career burnout in generalist and specialist physicians. JAMA. 2002;288:1447–1450.
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