Doctors Who Blog – GP Registrar Melanie Clothier

GreenGp blog

Doctors Who Blog

GreenGP, Reflections of a Rural GP Trainee, is a blog written by Dr Melanie Clothier, a doctor working and training in rural South Australia. Her blog is the first indication that Dr Clothier is not your average GP registrar, but rather an avid social media user and ongoing education enthusiast. Dr Clothier combines her passions for medical practice, social media and ongoing education to help encourage other health professionals to participate online, join the conversation, contribute to open source education and continue learning.

We were lucky enough to get the chance to ask Dr Clothier about her motivations behind blogging and participation in social media and this is what she had to say;

Is GreenGP your first foray into writing for an audience?

Medical writing is still quite new to me, however I did write a couple of pieces for student and junior doctor magazines during my medical school and training years, mostly in my role as a General Practice Ambassador within the General Practice Students Network and Going Places Network (both initiatives of the General Practice Registrars’ Association (GPRA) in Australia). I was frustrated by the amount of times I heard people using “just” and “GP” in the same sentence, when I had been aspiring to become a GP from the beginning because of its many attractions. I felt there was a need to dispel some myths about general practice as a specialty in its own right.

Blogging might seem an unusual activity for a Doctor – what made you start writing a blog?

There were several factors that came together culminating in the beginnings of my GreenGP blog. Ultimately though it took encouragement from other GP registrars, namely Dr. Gerry Considine of www.ruralflyingdoc.com to get me started. I don’t see myself as a natural writer, however I am certainly passionate about the things I write on, which are mainly reflections on my GP training experiences in rural general practice.

My hope is that others might be inspired to do general practice (and hopefully rural general practice) through reading my blog. I also hope to contribute to the growing database of Free Open Access Medical education (FOAM or FOAMed) by producing various educational pieces, mainly video pod-casts and case studies. This is a really helpful way for me to consolidate my own learning, at the same time as sharing this with others who are interested and at an appropriate stage in their training. As I have written in my blog, I believe in life-long learning, and there are endless possibilities for learning in general practice. Coupled with the appropriate use of social media including blogging sites like WordPress and Twitter, it is now so easy to distribute this information and make it accessible to a wider audience. My blog is also a way for me to share some of the joys and frustrations of being a doctor in a primary care setting, especially a rural one, from the doctor’s perspective.

Your blog covers a range of topics about your practice and learning. Who do you hope reads your writing, who is your target audience?

My blog’s target audience is primarily other GPs and GP trainees, however some of my articles are aimed at a wider audience than this. I have found that blogging is a great way to connect with like-minded professionals, mostly in the medical field, but certainly not limited to general practice. I have connected with patients, critical care doctors, paramedics, nurses, medical students and allied health practitioners from all over the world through GreenGP and the use of Twitter so far, which has been wonderful. This sort of connection is so important for rural doctors in particular, to help reduce professional isolation and enhance networking and support.

Social Media and online presence are becoming more mainstream topics among the medical profession. Did you have any concerns about starting writing a blog, as a doctor?

Social Media use amongst the medical profession certainly is becoming more widespread, and I believe this to be a good and necessary change. I was part of a group of doctors and medical students who delivered a workshop entitled “The GP guide to social media: an introduction to professional life on the web” at the recent General Practice Education and Training (GPET) Convention in Perth, where we discussed these developments with colleagues. There are so many reasons for doctors and other health professionals to become involved in social media, including networking with peers, advocacy, keeping up to date with news and research, developing clinical skills and knowledge, and keeping up with your patients who are already online!

Concerns about privacy, professional identity and veracity of online information are valid and this was certainly something I considered before starting my blog. I am still learning, but I do my best to ensure that if I post clinical information, it is de-identified, and I have obtained consent from the patient prior to publishing. I also try to ensure I have referenced my sources of information at the end of every post that is not purely my own work, especially any educational posts and podcasts, so that others are able to access the primary source of information.

You are very involved in social media – do you believe doctors need to be more careful on social media than other professionals?

I believe that doctors have great responsibility, and I think that it is all health professionals (not just doctors) who need to be even more careful with their use of social media than other professionals. Yet this is not a new thing. Although the power of social media is such that information reaches thousands of people all over the world simultaneously and is ever-present on the Internet, there has always been a need for discretion and ‘common-sense’ with communication amongst health professionals. For example, doctors discussing a case in a corridor or a lift must be very careful not to allow a patient to be identified by people who may over-hear the conversation. The same goes when posting cases on-line, and consent should always be obtained from patients before posting images or cases, even if these are to be de-identified.

In addition to protecting patient privacy online, there is a need to be careful about ones’ online reputation, which again is not very different to protecting your reputation in the ‘real world’. There are already several policies and guidelines which have been produced to help health professionals use social media safely, and these can be found at the recently launched Social Media GP website: http://www.socialmediagp.org/. GPRA is currently in the process of developing guidelines for GP registrars when using social media.

“A good test before publishing a blog post or a tweet is to consider if you would mind this ending up as a front-page headline on a well-read newspaper.”

You hear so much about doctors being exhausted and overworked – how do you have the time to write a blog?

Part of the answer to this question is procrastination! Finding the time to write a blog can be a challenge, however because most of what I write is inspired ‘on the go’, I just write when I feel I have something to say or share, or I make the blog-post educational for me too, so that it is actually part of my own study. Blogging is also a way for me to journal my experiences and debrief, so I see it as a hobby rather than a chore.

What are your hopes for your blog in the future?

I hope that I can continue to post content which interests my peers, and I can see that my blog is likely to develop more of an educational focus in the coming months, as well as continuing to journal my experiences in rural general practice.

To connect with Dr Clothier or read more of her writing, visit her blog, GreenGP, or follow her on Twitter @drmelclothier. We will soon be publishing the second half of our interview with Dr Clothier, where she discusses her thoughts on FOAM (Free Open Access Medical education) and rural practice.

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