When we launched NN&I’s Twitter page in 2010, an active and connected editorial advisory board member told me she didn’t know of many nephrologists who would admit to using the platform. Social media, after all, was mainly for teenagers and people looking to reconnect with old loves and classmates. It wasn’t a realm for medical professionals. But the world of technology has changed rapidly since then. My mom is on Facebook now, and nephrologists are flocking to Twitter.

But why Twitter? Despite the company’s struggles to keep executives and make a profit, Twitter remains the best social platform to keep up with news and current events.

“In terms of what it does well, in terms of real time information, it really has no competitors,” said Joel Topf, MD, FACP, a clinical nephrologist in Detroit, partner at St Clair Nephrology, and assistant clinical professor at Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine. He is cofounder of the Twitter nephrology journal club, NephJC. If you are active on Twitter, you most likely follow him. If you aren’t, he and NephJC  (www.nephjc.com) are a good place to start. NephJC holds regular chats on Twitter to discuss research, guidelines, and editorials in nephrology. It’s website also contains detailed instructions to get you started on Twitter. Topf has created his own lists of medical Twitter accounts nephrologists would likely want to follow, one of which, “Proximal tubule,” is an attempt at listing every nephrologist on Twitter.

Making a connection

Twitter’s design makes it ideal for professional networking. “How you organize your network in Twitter is by interests; how you organize your network in Facebook is by offline relationships,” said Topf. He is friends with nephrologists on Facebook, but they are people he already knows in real life. On Twitter, he follows hundreds of nephrologists, “way more than I know in real life.”

Topf, whose username is   @kidney_boy, has become the public face of nephrology on Twitter. He uses the platform mainly to discuss clinical care. His tweets, like those of many nephrologists on Twitter, are full of witty insights, lots of humor, and plenty of scientific discussion.

Topf, who recently received the Robert G. Narins Award from the American Society of Nephrology for his “substantial and meritorious contributions in education and teaching,” is an early adopter of Internet technology among nephrologists. He has maintained a blog, Precious Bodily Fluids, since 2007. When he started tweeting in 2012, there were only a handful of nephrologists on Twitter, most of whom were also bloggers trying to extend their reach. But now, thanks in part to Topf’s proselytizing, and examples set by other medical specialties like emergency medicine, more nephrologists are using Twitter.

Katie Kwon, MD, who signed up for Twitter at Kidney Week 2013 after meeting Topf, said Twitter has greatly expanded her professional network.  “I serve on an ASN task force solely because of stuff I said on Twitter,” she told NN&I. ASN asked her to serve on the maintenance and certification task force after she gained a lot of attention live-tweeting a Kidney Week session. “I’m not in academia, I’m just a private practice nephrologist in a small town.”

In an essay Kwon wrote for NephJC, she describes her first experience with Twitter at Kidney Week:

“Using my iPhone, I carefully pecked out a few tweets about the presentations I attended. I tried to tweet pearls that normally I would have written down in a notebook, rarely to be seen again. I was delighted when these tweets got starred and retweeted by new followers. It was even more exciting when respected faculty members, whose names I knew from journal articles, would add their thoughts and provide links to additional material. It enhanced the learning from each session I attended. I wound up with a deeper understanding and different perspectives. I even made a few real-life acquaintances and met some for lunch. It was the most productive ASN meeting I’d ever attended.”

Perhaps the most exciting thing about Twitter, like the rest of the Internet, is how easy it is to pass on information quickly. Topf said he has discovered valuable clinical studies on Twitter that he might not have read otherwise. He’s also gained a lot of attention because of his online presence.

“But if you do it for the attention, you will be bad at Twitter,” he said. “I do it because I enjoy the comradery. I know that when you’re slogging through 20 or 30 patients on a weekend day, it feels lonely and it can be hard. But knowing that there’s other people out there that are on call also, that are slogging through it, it just feels better.”