How To Engage In Professional Activism In Healthcare - Physeo

How To Engage In Professional Activism In Healthcare

Soumya Polavarapu

Soumya Polavarapu

Are you tired of fighting Facebook Trolls denying the reality of COVID-19? Do you no longer want to remain a passive bystander in the fight for justice? Is your family ready to disown you because you pick arguments about politics at family functions? No? Oh, then it must be just me. But if you are like me and you want to be an activist without feeling angry or attacked every time while maintaining your professionalism, it’s time we talk about what we can do, as a person in healthcare, to present ourselves with decorum and class while engaging in activism. 

Before entering professional school, it is recommended you ‘clean up’ your social media to have it better reflect your more mature self. This may include deleting old photos, posts, comments, that may be immature or inappropriate. In some cases it may be better to delete your social media accounts altogether. However, if you are interested in a public platform especially for activism, there is a way to be both professional and advocate for your beliefs. 

Recent events have led to an increasing number of medical professionals utilizing public social media platforms to defend the scientific process and refute false information on the internet. Politicization of public health, science, and medicine have put professionals in an awkward position to dispel harmful rhetoric without ‘being political.’Research funding, health education, and the pandemic response have become political. 

In being vocal, using anything from social media to cable news, you may open yourself to the liability of losing your job. For example, ex-surgical resident Dr. Euguen Gu was terminated from his residency program in Vanderbilt for posting tweets condoning white supremacy on his twitter because it violated Vanderbilt’s policies. So what should we do to protect ourselves and our careers when speaking on controversial topics?

The question we need to ask ourselves is whether we extend the idea to ‘do no harm’ beyond the confines of a hospital. If you find yourself in a situation where you feel that not speaking will do more harm than speaking, then you should do so!

 Is there a safe way to stand up for what you believe in without risking your livelihood? Yes! Follow these 10 steps to ensure that you are engaging in professional activism. 

Step 1: What Exactly Do You Believe In?

People need to educate themselves to form a valid opinion. Really sit down with yourself and articulate to yourself your beliefs. Write it down, read literature and books to form more cohesive opinions, and talk to other people. If you find yourself being indifferent or under-educated about a certain topic, research it and ask questions! Be open to new opinions, other perspectives, and critiques of your own opinions. Be an active listener. Take an implicit association test and reflect on your results. 

If you are a healthcare student or professional, it is non negotiable that you are on the side of science. You should be echoing scientific literature, expert opinions from professionals in the field, and proven scientific fact and reproducible theories. Do not make baseless scientific claims based on whims and feelings, it is a sure-fire way to lose credibility.

Step 2: Include Your Credentials In Your Bio

Which social media do you want to use? Are you going to use your personal account? If you decided on posting from your personal account, delete anything that you think is in poor taste or does not reflect your current values. Another option is start a completely new public professional account for your activism, and build a following. 

If you are using Twitter, Instagram, or TikTok, update your bio to include your credentials such as your degrees, education background, and if you feel comfortable, the name of your institution. It is incredibly important to be transparent on social media so you are not subject to ad hominem attacks by people questioning your intelligence. I would stay away from platforms such as Snapchat as information disappears after 24 hours, and you don’t have an option to include a bio. 

As a person in healthcare, your opinions and judgments carry a lot of value as people look up to you. You can provide intimate knowledge and first hand perspective that people cannot otherwise get. Since you may encounter people who are misinformed on a certain scientific topic, it is important to educate them and be able to be in a position to say to yourself: “yes, I have studied this topic through my xyz degree and I am confident in the information I am posting publicly.”  

Step 3: Follow Accounts of Fellow Academics, Journals, and Credible News Sources/People

Before you start posting, study the way verified, established organizations are engaging in activism on social media. Examples include the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). Be selective with the accounts you follow and where you are learning information, since it reflects on your credibility. 

Here’s a life hack: Look at the users respected organizations are following. Those users have probably been vetted and post high quality content. Following these accounts gives you an opportunity to repost published information that is accepted in professional organizations. It is a good place to start if you don’t feel comfortable posting your own hot take on a current issue.

Step 4: Vet information Before Posting

When we come across statistics and statements that prove our point, it is easy to post it and say “I told you so!” Before posting it, check whether the information that draws from reliable sources.

Examples of credible sources include:

  • Reproducible recent literature with peer-reviewed sources
  • Textbooks 
  • Databases like Google Scholar, UpToDate, and JSTOR.
  • Government and educational institutions, examples include .gov and .edu.
  • First hand information from leading experts and respected authors. 
  • Academic podcasts like The 1619 Project, Code Switch, and Bloomberg Law
  • Centrist news sources (are there truly any?) that report without bias and provide citations. Politico, Wall Street Journal, and The New York times are neutral and reliable sources for current events. 

Examples of unreliable sources: 

  • Blog Posts
  • Social Media Posts without credible sources
  • Websites ending in .com, .net and .org
  • Retracted/Out-of-date literature 
  • News articles without citations 
  • YouTube Channels that do not provide sources 
  • Ted Talks 

If de-bunking information from an unreliable source, use a reliable source to do so. 

While you are not writing a thesis, it is still important to directly include the source from which you are referencing.

Step 5: When In Doubt, Don’t Post It

It is always better to post high-quality content less frequently than frequent content that varies in degrees of quality. If you are uncomfortable speaking about a matter, don’t do it. Be fully transparent in the limits of your “wokeness” as there is no such thing as a “perfect ally.” 

For example, if you are a cis, heteronormative individual you may not completely understand the scope of sex anatomy, behavior, and identity, and that’s okay! So in this case, it would be inappropriate of you to post your thoughts on something you are not completely privy to. It would be appropriate however to use your platform to ask your audience to send you resources so you can be a better ally.

Step 6: Post Literature and Published Research

I’ve seen healthcare professionals on social media do it a couple of ways:

  • “Mini-Journal Club” approach.  For example, pick a broad topic to talk about like “racism and stop/frisk policies”, and then find an article and annotate it using simple diction, and present your annotations of the article to your audience. Screenshot sections of an article and underline sentences to either make a point or refute a point from an unreliable source. You may choose to include relevant figures and explanations of the data. 
  • Reaction and Review. Pick any source such as a clip from a news segment, a podcast or a YouTube video. Watch the video in real time and pause the video and play devil’s advocate to a claim said in the video. This presents a good opportunity to interject with peer-reviewed literature on the subject. Dr. Mike, the OG senpai of healthcare workers on social media, has a slew of reaction and review videos that are a good guide to follow.  

Make sure you are not cherry picking data to support your premise. Always remember the scientific process – you consider all the research and evidence before stating a hypothesis, not forming a hypothesis and supporting it with data. 

Step 7: Repost Tasteful Memes

Humor is an amazing way to alleviate tense situations and to lightheartedly discuss heavy topics. There are tons of spicy fresh memes that are funny but questionable. In this case, you need to use your best judgment to deem a meme tasteful vs. offensive. Consider avoiding reposting a meme if there is an opportunity for someone to misunderstand or is too niche.

There’s not much to say here other than know your audience. 

Step 8: Don’t Engage in Logical and Rhetorical Fallacies

This is probably the most important step. One of the most powerful ways we can make an impact is to have tough conversations and perform the emotional labor on behalf of marginalized people who were otherwise forced to do throughout history.

When someone disagrees with a point you made, keep the following Do’s and Don’t in the back of your mind when engaging in a productive discussion. 

Do’s 

  1. Reflect and ask questions. When people disagree with something it is usually because they have a strong conviction in their beliefs. If you give someone a chance to explain themselves and understand their perspective, it leads to a good discussion. For example, if someone says “I don’t believe in xyz…”, you could follow it up with the following statements“could you clarify what you mean by that?” 
  2. “I’m having trouble believing that, could you provide evidence to support what you are saying?”
  3. “What do you think would be more effective?”
  4. “Well, what is preventing you from believing in xyz…?”
  5. Stick to facts and make neutral statements.  Offer time (if you can) to chat about things further and share resources. 
  6. Use trigger/content warnings. Although you may have noble intentions, it is vital to consider what you are sharing could be traumatic and triggering to many people. 
  7.  

Don’ts

  1. Use profanity and undignified language. It’s just not a good look.
  2. Make hasty generalizations. Sometimes it’s easier to use generalizations to prove your point and not engage in discussion. Unfortunately, this can cause a slippery slope and lead to other unproductive methods of discourse like red herrings, circular arguments, and confusion of correlation/causation. 
  3. Tone police. Just because you don’t like the way someone said something, doesn’t mean it’s not their truth. Try to be patient and lead the conversation with empathy.
  4. Don’t attack something a person cannot control, like their physical appearance 
  5. Use anecdotal evidence to prove a point. Using anecdotal evidence is often pseudoscience and does not validate anything. 
  6. Sound confrontational
  7. Center the narrative around yourself/make it about you.

It’s always hard to call people out on problematic behavior. Both parties can experience feeling disheartened, sad, and angry. Don’t think of calling someone out as something inherently confrontational but a chance to genuinely gain perspective of someone else’s convictions. Diversity of thought and the ability to hold a different point of view than others allows sociocultural evolution in society.

 Remember how in High School you were forced to argue the opposite of what you believe in as a learning experience? Try to exercise the same restraint you had to not cross a line when questioning others and while others question the validity of your claim.

 No one said being an ally was easy, it is both mentally and emotionally exhausting. You cannot be a good ally without taking care of yourself and drawing boundaries with people, even online. Do what you can at the present moment.

Step 9: Know When To Quit

When there is a lack of functional conversation it is usually because people have triggered something in each other. People don’t act rationally when dealing with public embarrassment. If someone feels that a disagreement is a direct attack on them, it’s nearly impossible to have a dialogue. 

If someone starts attacking you and is using inappropriate language, you are allowed to remove yourself from the situation and stop engaging. It is okay to quit when the conversation becomes an argument, and the person is committed to misunderstanding you. You are allowed to rest and recover while fighting for what is right and social change. 

Step 10: Always Keep Receipts!

Transparency is key, so archive your work whenever possible. Do not underestimate the power of the FBI-level sleuthing people are capable of to find skeletons in your closet. To prevent this, it is best to never delete and just own your mistakes. 

If someone has called you out for a problematic post, it is important to address it. When you make a mistake such as posting incorrect or misleading information, do not delete the post. Instead, take a screenshot of your original post and highlight what was incorrect and provide sources that shows that you have educated yourself on the matter. 

At the end of the day remember you are a human being, just show up authentically. Being an ally is not static. The point of allyship and activism especially is to constantly educate yourself and amplify the voices of the oppressed and marginalized. 

When asked “Why Healthcare?”, all of us said that we wanted to help people. Helping people includes advocating for the most vulnerable. I’ll leave with a final thought.

If you don’t fight for what you believe in, do you truly believe in it? 

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