By Anna Lee, MD, MPH, and Valerie Powell, RT Patient
Social media provides a platform for people and organizations to share information, opinions and expertise. It also serves as a news source, a networking tool and a pivotal communications channel for millions of people around the world. As radiation oncology experts, it’s important that we share our voice and raise the profile of our field and one area of focus for ASTRO is social media. For this year’s Annual Meeting, ASTRO asked nine attendees to serve as Social Champions, including, for the first time, the voice of an RT patient. Here, two #ASTRO19 Social Champions share their experiences from the meeting.
Anna: Last year I created a Twitter account in preparation for ASTRO’s Advocacy Day in Washington, D.C. While I participated in social media through Facebook and Instagram, these were primarily for personal use and I found the public platform of Twitter to be daunting. Why would people even care what I thought? What would be the purpose of having a professional account? These sentiments were alleviated after watching the social media webinar prior to Advocacy Day. I quickly learned different ways to increase visibility and how to use the platform to put my voice out there and get people’s attention.
Once I joined the #SoMe (social media) community, I was floored to see so many radiation oncologists on Twitter! I immediately felt welcomed and learned so much from discussions (some can be intense) and hot-off-the-press papers. I quickly developed new friendships that have crossed over #IRL (in real life) and have been offered opportunities to collaborate on projects including to be one of the nine #ASTRO19 Social Champions.
The #ASTRO19 meeting in Chicago this year was one of the busiest but most exciting I’ve attended. I felt more engaged because I wanted to synthesize information from the talks and share it on #SoMe. As a current trainee in proton therapy, I wanted to share my perspective as someone still early in her career and excited about the increased utilization of protons for our patients. Even though my task was to interact and engage through tweets, I met and spoke #IRL with so many dedicated ASTRO members. I came home exhausted but grateful to have had an enriched conference experience and to be part of a larger network that helped me to better understand both the field and the people in the field.
Valerie: I was giddy to get to Chicago. The opportunity to attend such an influential and informative conference with the opportunity to be an #ASTRO19 Social Champion and stand in for other RT patients was something I never imagined I would do. So, I assigned myself a few goals: Be present. Be professional. Be transparent. And, be myself.
As a non-clinician and former RT patient attending #ASTRO19 for the first time, my initial steps into the main ballroom made me nervous. My face had been promoted all over Twitter and was published throughout the convention center. Whether anyone recognized me or not was one thing, but the idea of potentially being way out of my realm of understanding was a whole different thing.
I arranged my conference schedule to include topics I was interested in but also topics that I had some familiarity with. While I am not clinical in my marketing and communications work at University of Alabama, Birmingham’s (UAB) radiation oncology department, I tend to poke my head in as many different areas of our department that I am allowed. Of course, going through treatment for head and neck cancer in 2017 taught me quite a bit about radiation oncology too.
During each #ASTRO19 session I attended, I kept the overall topic in mind and listened closely. If something struck a particular chord in me, I quickly wrote it into my phone and gave myself a few seconds to process why it impacted me. Sometimes it came from a past experience. Other times it might have come from clinical perspective that I learned while working in research at UAB and more recently in marketing and communications.
At that point, I had to make a decision about how what I had to say was going to come across to a very practical and data-driven audience. It was crucial for me to stay relevant in this venue and provide quick and valid thoughts or I would inevitably fall behind the other Social Champions.
Overall, being a Social Champion definitely gave me a feeling of inclusiveness, especially coming in as a total outsider and not knowing what to expect. I came with purpose and a story and ASTRO gave me a platform to share those things and hopefully improve care for future patients being treated with radiation therapy.
Even though the Annual Meeting is behind us, there are many opportunities to use social media in radiation oncology. If you are not currently on social media, you can start with a Twitter account. There’s an easy how-to video on ASTRO.org. If you don’t want to start posting right away, you can follow the conversations until something strikes your interest.
Anna Lee, MD, MPH, graduated from residency at SUNY Downstate Medical Center and is currently completing a one-year proton therapy fellowship at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
Valerie Powell is a radiation oncology marketing professional at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and a previous head and neck cancer patient. She is married to her husband of five years, K.T. Powell, and they have two dogs, Fox and Stella.