Last October, the Association for Academic Surgery (AAS) launched its first blog, joining many other surgical organizations in the adoption of social media tools. These tools are not new, but they remind us of the lessons of transparency. I began blogging in 1997, the year the term “web log” was used by John Barger to describe a series of discrete entries on a web page, presented in reverse chronological order. Peter Merholz is credited with the first use of the term “blog,” when he jokingly redistributed letters and spaces as “we blog” on his blog in 1999. “Blog” was then rapidly adopted in both noun and verb forms and extended to describe the activity (“blogging”) and the individuals who do it (“bloggers”). The technology has evolved substantially since that time. Early blogs were static diaries created by generally nerdy people (like myself). Today, blogs cover topics such as politics, health, and fashion. Modern day blogs are interactive tools that allow reader commentaries and encourage discussion. Microblogs, which present very short entries, are typified by the popular social media tool, Twitter.
In 1997, my blog shared my experiences as a general surgery intern at Duke University. I did not call it a “blog,” but my motivations were similar to those who blog today. Like any diary, my blog was an outlet, and I hoped that sharing my stories might help others. The transition to surgical residency was a challenge for me. Moving from Stanford University in California to the South was a radical cultural change. The remarkably flat worlds of Silicon Valley and my informatics graduate program were in stark contrast to the rigorous hierarchy of my surgical residency. I wrote about my fears, the excitement of getting to participate – even a little bit – in the operating room, and the funny things that happened during internship. There weren’t any social media policies, so I tried not to complain, and I only referred to people by name if I had something nice to say. Clinical references were always vague and done in reflection so patients could not be identified. I received messages from and shared stories with surgical trainees all over the world. It was great fun, and then…
My program discovered this blog early in my second year of residency. I remember the day both my chairman and program director paid me a personal visit. My program director is one of those great coaches who knew exactly what to say; he advised me to think about how much I wanted to draw attention to myself and in what way. That advice still applies to modern day social media interactions. Apparently, Risk Management was not delighted with my honest accounts of what times I got to work and went home in the days before work hour restrictions. My chairman suggested was the problem was not what I wrote, but that what I wrote was true. In retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t get fired, and I am eternally grateful to the people who trained me. For my program, it was an early lesson in transparency.
For the AAS, the blog has offered lessons in transparency, too. One of the first posts was submitted by a probably naively enthusiastic trainee (not unlike my early blogging self) who felt somewhat overwhelmed by the Career Development Courses and challenged some of the messages. Could this sacred AAS offering be questioned? Under visionary guidance of Lillian, Tim, Justin, and others, the AAS decided YES! That is the point of disruptive technologies! So, I offer this challenge to AAS members:
What AAS traditions and tenets should be challenged next?
The leadership will be discussing the future in June. Share your disruptive ideas right here.
The AAS has entered the age of transparency!