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Outside The Office | April 2021

Putting My Best (Digital) Foot Forward

Sharing my personal and professional insights and other pieces of my life on social media has become my passion project.

As a young ophthalmologist, my days are filled with a variety of patient scenarios and challenges. Once the workday ends, I head home to my second job, which is being a mom to my two small children. During these hectic days, I often have little quiet time until the late evening when, at last, my kids are asleep. After some tidying and preparing for the next day, I frequently spend the next hour or 2 browsing various social media platforms to connect with my colleagues, sharpen my clinical and surgical acumen, and catch up on the day’s news. One night I may be searching for surgical videos to help me prepare for a challenging upcoming case. On another, I may be collaborating and sharing ideas with a group of women ophthalmologists in an online forum.

Instagram: A Passion Project

My small passion project has become sharing bits of my life via Instagram, where a rapidly growing network of physicians is rising to prominence both within the medical community and with the public at large.

Medicine has traditionally been closed off to patients outside of the clinical environment, with few avenues for interaction other than formal encounters. I believe social media networking in today’s internet-driven landscape represents an opportunity for physicians and practices. Social media allows the exchange of ideas with feedback from and collaboration with other physicians, exposure to trends and thought leaders worldwide, and the sharing of evidence-based content. More than ever, the public is turning to the web and social media for medical information. A desire for accurate, easy-to-digest content is something that can—and should—be met by qualified professionals.

Evolving Perspectives

Slow growth. My social media journey grew slowly from a private, personal account with a small following of friends and family to a larger public account through which I share many aspects of my life as a working mom and surgeon. I began sharing details of my life more openly as I dealt with some unexpected pregnancy complications in 2017, which led to incredible connections with other women in a burgeoning landscape of physicians on social media. Online networking has led to friendships with ophthalmology colleagues across the world, from Morocco to Brunei to British Columbia, and within my own city and state.

Apprehension. As a trainee in the earlier part of this decade, I was apprehensive about establishing a public persona as a physician. Medical students are traditionally discouraged from having searchable profiles on social media and rightfully urged to refrain from sharing content that may seem unprofessional to an admissions committee or residency program. During my residency application process, I went so far as to deactivate my social media profiles altogether to prevent them from negatively affecting my career aspirations.

Embracement. In contrast, many physicians and trainees are currently exploring how social media profiles may positively affect their professional goals. Advice on personal branding and marketing can now be found on nearly every conference agenda, and physicians who are considered to be experts on social media are asked to speak about how their online presence has contributed to their practices. Studies of the impact of social media on medicine can be found in the major journals of all medical specialties.

Personal, Professional Insights

My page is a melting pot of content touching on education, clinical scenarios, eye disease, my experiences as a young female physician and surgeon, pregnancy, motherhood, life as part of a dual-physician couple, and more (Figures 1–4). My goal is to present a well-rounded and multifaceted view of my life as it is rather than to limit myself to a smaller niche of only one topic or type of content.

Figure 1. Dr. Early with her family.

Figure 2. Dr. Early in a photo shared on her Instagram account.

Figure 3. Dr. Early in a photo shared on her Instagram account.

Figure 4. Dr. Early in a photo shared on her Instagram account.

Sharing personal and professional insights into one’s life as a physician can be fraught with risk. Some of my more outspoken colleagues have found themselves the victims of online smear campaigns on topics such as vaccination. It has become a wonderful creative outlet for me, however, as well as a tremendous networking tool. Through the connections I have made online, many opportunities have come my way that might otherwise never have been. I have been invited to be a panelist in several web-based discussions, I have been offered opportunities to contribute in writing to various publications, and, perhaps most rewardingly, I have been able to serve as an online mentor to younger physicians and trainees. Being able to connect and communicate with physicians-in-training and to share my experiences and advice with them is fulfilling and rewarding.


As highlighted by the pandemic, people are becoming more dependent on internet connectivity, and the field of medicine is no exception. Patients are savvy users of social media, and 90% of baby boomers and older adults report that they used social media to locate and evaluate health information, according to a 2015 study.1 Surely, in the time since, that percentage has grown.

It’s not uncommon for patients to mention that they read my credentials online or filled out a Facebook review while sitting in the waiting room. Why wouldn’t I take control and put my best internet foot forward?

1. Tennant B, Stellefson M, Dodd V, et al. eHealth Literacy and Web 2.0 Health information seeking behaviors among baby boomers and older adults. J Med Internet Res. 2015; 17(3):e70.

Alison D. Early, MD
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