The importance of social media in neurosurgery, and medicine in general, has increased significantly over the past several years. As searched on PubMed, academic publications that include the search terms “social media neurosurgery” have increased over the last 10 years. Through various social media platforms, neurosurgeons can participate in educational endeavors, share scientific findings, build their brand and collaborate with others in the field despite geographical distance. The interactions that social media offers also provide an opportunity to network — to find mentors, role models and even friends outside one’s local academic and geographic environment.
A recent article by Norton et al. in the Lancet Neurology hypothesized that social media could address the gender gap in neurosurgery. As stated by Jamie S. Ullman, MD, FAANS, FACS, in a recent Medscape article, 12% of residents in neurosurgery are female, but only 5% of practicing neurosurgeons are women. Social media platforms allow females to identify other women in the field and provide a way to interact with these colleagues. Traditionally, a primary venue for networking has been conferences, such as the annual meetings of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS) and the Congress of Neurological Surgeons. While these meetings provide opportunities to meet others in the field, they can be daunting for a young neurosurgeon, particularly a woman, as most attendees and speakers are male. The internet is easily searchable — undergraduates, medical students and residents can identify females in all levels of academic neurosurgery, including multiple chairwomen. Using social media platforms, interacting with other women is straightforward and often less daunting than doing so in person. Organizations such as Women in Neurosurgery (WINS) can promote and amplify women’s voices in the field and bring attention to challenges unique to female surgeons. Seeing that other women have overcome these challenges to become faculty, full professors and the president of the AANS can offer encouragement and may prevent attrition.
Social media’s utility in addressing the gender imbalance does not apply just to women but to all minorities who have difficulty seeing themselves in a field with so many challenges. Identifying someone of similar gender, race, ethnicity or background who has achieved one’s desired goal makes it easier to believe that it is possible. Although academic interest regarding gender and neurosurgeons has increased — as evidenced by the number of articles devoted to this topic — the same cannot be said for other underrepresented groups. Literature searches in PubMed for “diversity,” “minority” or “underrepresented” in combination with neurosurgery did not identify articles assessing the impact of any minority status on entering neurosurgery, neurosurgical success or attrition. This may be due to the small number of minority practitioners.
Social media may be particularly useful for establishing connections within groups that are underrepresented in neurosurgery, and medicine in general. Our specialty can only improve as its practitioners reflect the diversity of our patients and as we continue to attract the best and brightest minds from all available backgrounds, demographics and socioeconomic groups.