Shared Experiences: The Medical Community on Social Media

medical social media

We may not be working next to each other, but we are working together…

Background

(Bear with me for a minute. There is a point, and it has nothing to do with football.)

I’m a huge fan of the Miami Dolphins, an American football team. I grew up in New England in the 1970s and 1980s a fan of this team. I didn’t know (or don’t remember) any other fans of the Dolphins in my small childhood circle.

I didn’t handle losing very well. When the Dolphins would lose a regular season game, I would cry. It would ruin at least my Sunday and Monday (or Tuesday). If the Dolphins lost a playoff game, I would cry even more, and several days would be spent in mourning. If the team lost a Super Bowl (two of them, to be exact), I would cry like I’d lost a favorite pet. More than a week of woe was upon me. Analyze this as you will. This behavior went on for years. Sadly, I was probably nearly an adult before I could handle a Dolphins loss with any dignity.

There are undoubtedly many reasons for my ultimate change in behavior and ability to cope, but one is most certainly a gained sense of community and shared loss. Somewhere along the line, I figured out that I wasn’t the only person who cared about the team. I wasn’t the only one whose day was ruined if they lost. I wasn’t the only one who had to go to school (or work) the next day and be heckled by people who knew my weakness. I wasn’t the only one who was disappointed.

Shared Experiences

 

Why do we feel better when we know that other peoples’ experiences are similar to our own?

I’ve seen several posts on social media recently from fellow nurses, nursing students, doctors and med students that made me think of this. Communities of like-minded people exist online, sharing experiences and knowledge. People within these communities express relief at the realization and understanding that they are not the only ones who experience the stresses of this profession; that what they experience is frequently experienced by many other people. I see statements similar to, “my Twitter friends understand me better than my friends in real life [IRL] do”. I would assume that, in at least some of these cases, IRL friends may have chosen very different professions.

“Shared experience” is a term that I encountered while working on a research project. Shared experience is just that – experience that is shared. In the case of medical professionals online, that shared experience spans education, work, and sometimes lifestyle. In this case, the people who are interacting have, for the most part, never seen each other, and have never been in close physical proximity.

We may not all have gone to the same college, or even studied in the same decade, but we understand how hard it is to be a nursing or medical student, or resident, and we can empathize with one another. The same is true of our work environments. Even though we may all work in different settings – and even countries – our situations are strikingly similar. The long hours are the same. Lack of resources and staffing shortages span continents. Interactions with patients are similar, along with the patients’ disease states and progression. Ultimately, we all deal with the same suffering, ethical conundrums and burnout, too.

Among other things, we use this knowledge as a coping mechanism. In my own work, I’ve found myself busy and stressed, but I remember back to Twitter posts I’ve read where people describe similar situations. I am comforted by the fact that there are probably nurses all over the world – at any given moment – who are at least as stressed as I am, dealing with equally (or more) complex situations. We may not be working next to each other, but we are working together, and this knowledge helps me put my situation in perspective.

Social Media as a Tool

None of this is to say that Twitter or Facebook should serve as a replacement for real-life friends and acquaintances, who you can actually see in person, interact with, call on the phone, or go out with. Social media also isn’t a trained mental health professional. If you need help, you should seek real help. But social media is an amazing tool for like-minded people from all over the world to congregate, converse and interact – and to share experience.

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