Wendy Sue Swanson and the How To’s of a Successful Physician Blogby Franz Wiesbauer on Dec 8, 2011 • 8:03 pm
Wendy is a board certified pediatrician. She blogs at Seattle Mama Doc for Seattle Children’s Hospital, a world-renowned teaching hospital. She is one of the most famous physician-bloggers on the internet. Both, KevinMD AND Bryan Vartabedian regularly read her posts and subscribe to her tweets. She is passionate, extremely smart and a true inspiration to us at MedCrunch. So without further ado – Wendy enters the stage….
MedCrunch: Wendy, how did you get into this whole social media thing?
Wendy: When I was pregnant with my second son, I was put on bed rest. A friend of mine had a sister who had gone to Harvard and was an early adopter of Facebook. She told me that I absolutely had to join the new social networking tool. I poked around and realized instantly that the tools of social media had great application in health. I joined Facebook and I realized this was a space with great potential. I found that the best way to learn about social media was simply by using it. After my second son was about six months old, I started a partnership with Seattle Children’s Hospital, which is consistently ranked as one of the best children’s hospitals in the country by U.S. News & World Report, and thought there needs to be a place where parents can go online and find evidence-based, timely, compassionate and practical guidance about raising healthy children. A blog was a perfect solution.
That is how I became one of the first pediatricians to blog for a leading children’s hospital. However, before I began, I thought long and hard about its mission and I outlined a clear purpose and goals for who I was trying to reach and what I wanted to accomplish. I then joined Twitter as I felt it would be another effective channel for having real-time conversations with parents and others in the health field.
MedCrunch: So who is your main audience, I mean is it mainly moms or has it extended to other groups, what’s your target audience?
Wendy: The audience consists of both parents and other physicians. Originally, the target audience consisted of parents who make decisions about health and wellness. We now know that we also have many physician readers as well because they read it to stay up-to-date on current trends in the health field and to contribute to the conversation. For parents, the blog also serves as a great place to read a pediatrician’s perspective about current health news or wellness issues that are being talked about in the community.
MedCrunch: Do you have a revenue model – associated with the blog?
Wendy: Great question. I am commissioned by the hospital for the work that I do because our social media endeavors are part of the hospital’s mission to treat and eliminate pediatric illness and disease. However, you will see from my blog that the intent is not to promote the hospital. Rather, the blog is meant to educate communities and facilitate a conversation about health. It is my passion, but outside of my online work. I am also a traditional pediatrician. I work part time as a clinician where I see patients two to three days a week.
MedCrunch: Do you see your career moving away from clinical medicine with all the options that come from your social media presence?
Wendy: No, not now. I want to be a pediatrician. I went to medical school to learn how to be a physician and I feel, at least at this time in my career, that I have to be a practicing pediatrician. I love my work and I feel that the only way that I can really be a voice for research and a voice for families is to be involved in both social media and clinical work.
To give you an example, yesterday I saw 26 patients and in that time I learned a lot about what families are worried about, what they are hearing in the community and on the news and the questions that they have. That’s where I get food for my writing and it is how I keep in touch with the sincere concerns of families, patients and families.
MedCrunch: Can you share a little bit how you schedule your day so you can put in the writing time? When do you write, when do you get up, what about productivity, do you use any tools?
Wendy: While I am very busy between my clinical practice and social media work, I am able to find a balance so I am there for my patients and also responding in a timely manner on my social media channels. You will see on my blog that I manage to be very active in responding to comments and moderating them when needed. I usually do this very early in the morning so I will try to get up before my children do. I usually work about an hour to an hour and a half in the morning and then I will go to the clinic. At night, I am back online checking my e-mail inbox and looking at Twitter to see what’s going on. For the three days a week when I am not in the clinic, I am filming for Seattle Mama Doc 101, doing interviews with traditional media or I am writing. I end up writing late at night quite a bit once my kids are in bed. Every once in a while, I will wake up early enough, like 5:00 or 6:00 a.m. and get a couple of hours of good writing in during the morning.
With respect to other social media channels – I don’t send a lot of scheduled tweets. So I tweet when I am actually living on Twitter, not when other people want me to be there. I really do it organically and I try to keep that model because it’s the most authentic way for me to do it.
MedCrunch: You write a lot about results and implications of research studies. How do you come up with all those insights? Do you read everything yourself? Do you have a network of peers who you discuss those results with?
Wendy: My husband is a pediatric specialist and my friends are pediatric specialists so when something comes out, I do a lot of outreach to my friends and colleagues who know the research and I will ask the following questions: This is what I got from the study, what did you get from it? How did you understand it and what do you think? Where do you think there is ambiguity and where do you think there is need for clarification that we can provide for a parent? In constantly talking to others, stories come out organically. I don’t have an editorial calendar because I really want to have an authentic story line of what I am hearing in the office, what I am hearing in my home and what I am hearing from colleagues.
MedCrunch: How many hours do you think you write per week?
Wendy: Well, I think my social media and writing jobs take up roughly 40 hours a week. There are two important steps in blogging: thinking about writing and the act of writing itself. It’s not just the time that you are sitting at the keyboard and typing up the words because so many of these posts are written in my head before I actually sit down to write them. So it’s a hard question to answer. I think about writing probably at least five to ten hours a day. I am really actively observing what I am seeing across the playground, what I am doing in clinic and what I am doing at home. That’s the recipe for my mommy-physician blog.
MedCrunch: Do you have any productivity tools that you would like to share with our readers? Your colleague Bryan Vartabedian for example told us that he is totally fond of Evernote. He puts all his ideas in there to organize them and use them at some later time.
Wendy: No I don’t. Bryan has talked to me about Evernote and it seems like it’s a great place for him to grab his thoughts and capture them. I just started to use Dropbox where I put some of my ideas. But ultimately I keep them mostly in my head or I simply use the old fashioned method of Post-It notes. I don’t use a lot of technology in that area. It’s probably an area where I could be a little more efficient.
MedCrunch: Okay, you talked about how you learned so much from Twitter because you follow so many smart people. Can you recommend some people to follow on Twitter?
Wendy: Yes, I do have some recommendations. First, I would recommend Bryan Vartabedian as I love to hear what he has to say. I love the way he just builds information both on his blog and on Twitter. He is friendly, he is insightful and he is a voracious reader. You can learn a lot from him. One of my new rising stars on Twitter that you may or may not know about is a woman called Dr. Natasha Burgert. I really like her because she is genuine, she is authentic, and she is doing a lot of what I am doing. She is a mom, she is a practicing pediatrician and she is blogging, so I like her space and her thoughts. I also like some of the big news sources as well so I follow The New York Times and I follow the Washington Post. I follow The New York Times health section and I really like Lisa Belkin, who is a prominent blogger for The New York Times. She writes a blog called Motherlode. I also have just a smattering of moms and dads that I follow on Twitter who just share their lives as parents. Then there is also Dooce. She is just kind of funny, she is not very active on Twitter, but I like her voice.
MedCrunch: What’s her name again?
Wendy: Her name is Heather Armstrong, but her handle is Dooce. She is driving a lot of traffic to her blog in a very successful way. She is funny and a breath of fresh air. I love to learn from people like her. Then there is of course KevinMD, who is a huge aggregator. Through him I can just get through a lot of information because he curates and aggregates all these different physician bloggers. Another person I love to follow personally and also professionally is Susannah Fox, do you know her?
MedCrunch: Not yet.
Wendy: Susana Fox, works at the Pew Internet and American Life Projects and so she lends insight to how Americans on the internet and on mobile devices learn and share about health. She kind of coined the term peer to peer healthcare. She is beautiful on Twitter and she has great information. She is also very well connected with e-patients.net and the movement of participatory medicine.
MedCrunch: Last question do you have any book recommendations for our readers?
Wendy: I wish I did, but as a mom of two young children and as an online reader, it has been quite a while since I read a book. But the most recent book that I loved is called “The Panic Virus” by Seth Mnookin. It’s a book about the evolution of vaccine hesitancy, including what has happened, what have been the failures and what are the great successes of vaccines. The author gives the vantage point of a medical historian. It’s really like a thrilling novel even though it’s factually based, but meticulously done. It goes back in time and kind of lets the story of vaccine hesitancy unfold – it’s just an enormous page turner!
MedCrunch: Nice, well thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me and share your experience. It has been a tremendous learning experience.
Wendy: It was great talking to you!
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