Medical students applying to urology residency during the COVID-19 pandemic increasingly used Twitter as a tool to set themselves up for success — and it often worked, finds a published OUWB student-led study.


Twitter during COVID-19

OUWB study finds urology med students increasingly relied on social media platform during pandemic

An image of a pile of 3D Twitter logos.

icon of a calendarMarch 22, 2022

icon of a pencilBy Andrew Dietderich

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Medical students applying to urology residency during the COVID-19 pandemic increasingly used Twitter as a tool to set themselves up for success — and it often worked, finds a published OUWB student-led study.

Twitter Engagement of Medical Students Applying to Urology Residency During COVID-19: A Mixed Methods Study” recently was published in Urology.

Lead author was Brett Friedman, M4, who in February matched at University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.

In short, the study found that students applying to urology residency increasingly used Twitter during the COVID-19 pandemic and that having a Twitter account was beneficial when used in a professional manner.

“While Twitter may not be necessary to succeed in the match and can post an additional time burden, applicants view it as an opportunity for learning, networking, and personal branding,” the study concludes.

Revisiting Twitter

Friedman says COVID-19 forced people to reevaluate the value of certain technologies and tech-based tools, such as Twitter.

Essentially, he says, that’s the origin of the published study.

“I think there were a lot of people like me who had made a Twitter account a long time ago when it seemed like it was going to be something big, and then kind of just left it there,” he says.

The pandemic changed that, he says, as the world was forced online. Social media platforms increasingly were uses for additional mentorship, networking, and knowledge sharing.

“I saw a lot of students migrate to Twitter,” says Friedman.

Friedman’s study was developed to analyze the characteristics of urology residency applicants on Twitter during the 2021 cycle and determine the impact on match outcomes.

He recruited others to help, including Kwesi Asantey, M4, who recently matched at Medical College of Wisconsin. (Additional co-authors were: Irene Chen, M4, Wayne State University School of Medicine; Stacy Loeb, M.D., Department of Urology and Population Health, New York University; Simon Kim, M.D., Division of Urology, University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Center; Rena Malik, M.D., Department of Urology, University of Maryland; Patrick Karabon, former OUWB biostatistician; Tracy Wunderlich-Barillas, Ph.D., director of Research Training, OUWB; and Thenappan Chandrasekar, M.D., Department of Urology, Thomas Jefferson University.)

Asantey says he is “huge on other forms of social media, but the Twitter world is something that I knew nothing about.”

“I heard similarly that urology had a huge presence and that often a lot of information programs share is through (Twitter) before their websites and whatnot,” he says. “(The study) seemed like a good opportunity to learn more about how Twitter can be used.”

An image with Brett Friedman and Kwesi Asantey

Friedman (left) and Asantey.

‘An extension of one’s resume’

Friedman says the study began when he contacted the lead author of a similar published paper that looked at Twitter use by attendings, doctors, and residents, but not medical students.

Using a similar approach to the other study, researchers led by Friedman sought input from urology applicants to evaluate Twitter usage during the 2021 application cycle.

A mixed methods approach was used, consisting of three components: Twitter metrics data; an online survey; and phone interviews.

Several stories began to emerge.

One of them, says Friedman, was the increase in Twitter use. Per the study, 24% of applicants in urology created a Twitter account prior to the announcement of the pandemic. By Match Day, the proportion increased to about 51%.

The study also noted a correlation between Twitter use and urology applicants who matched successfully.

“While the proportion of both matched, and unmatched students with Twitter accounts increased after the COVID-19 pandemic announcement, nearly double the proportion of matched students (59%) were on Twitter by Match Day compared to unmatched students,” the study states.

Other stories surfaced.

For example, students reported increasingly relying on tools like Twitter to build their own personal brands centered on urology

“Matched students were more likely to include bio details related to urology interests, their class status, and tweets and/or retweets about urology residency,” says the study, which also notes a benefit to self-branding as “an extension of one’s resume.”

Friedman says students also reported awareness of the fact that residency programs were promoting events and updating deadlines more frequently via their social media feeds — oftentimes well before information was updated on websites and/or other sources.

Concurrently, respondents did report some concerns with regard to Twitter usage.

The study found that most students “rarely felt comfortable tweeting and/or retweeting about racial, political, and diversity issues.” Another concern was feelings or pressure to “continuously monitor Twitter, to the detriment of other activities.”

Still, the concerns didn’t alter the fact that, according to the study, “Twitter certainly played an important role in the first virtual application cycle for urology residency (and) may continue to be significant for future virtual application cycles.”

By publishing the study, Friedman and Asantey hope others in the field of urology see the benefits of being on Twitter.

“I hope people look at the study and recognize there’s a lot of information out there for urology applicants on Twitter, and other students in the past have found it super useful,” says Asantey.

Friedman says he hopes the qualitative and quantitative aspects of the study allow people to make the best decisions.

“We’re telling a story…not making a definitive statement like, ‘This is the way it has to be,’” says Friedman. “We hope that after reading this, people can make informed decisions about what’s best for them.”

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