The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many disruptions across different fields, and academic medicine was one of them. Balancing professional and personal responsibilities during the pandemic has further caused difficulty with the scholarly productivity of physicians and trainees. The reduced productivity disproportionately affected females and minority physicians. With the balance tipping towards clinical care, the academic yield has been affected, leading to the stress of not meeting deadlines and benchmarks for academic promotions. Additionally, social distancing guidelines, cancellation of educational events, inability to find daycare, and unexpected homeschooling responsibilities further contributed to the stress.1
One of the main aims of the Wiregrass Chapter of the Society of Hospital Medicine (SHM), based in Dothan, Alabama, is to promote academic medicine through our annual poster competitions. The chapter was established in 2014 and has grown significantly.
With the COVID-19 pandemic ongoing, and keeping with the social distancing guidelines, the chapter leadership proposed an innovative idea to use Twitter as the platform for the poster competition. As a result, the chapter was able to organize the poster competition for 2020 and 2021 using Twitter.
In 2021, we had 100 posters in six different categories. To encourage academic interaction, we had 25 judges from across the country belonging to various institutions. Using a streamlined process, we had an upload poster day, specific hashtags for each category, and poster judging spread over five days with specific times for judges to interact with the poster presenters. Additionally, we provided an option for the presenters to upload a short video describing their poster to upload along with their poster. The presenters were encouraged to retweet their posters and interact as well. Further, we had a set of rules and ethics to deal with Twitter conversations, monitored by the organizing committee.
In addition to the Twitter uploads, judges had access to an online directory of abstracts for the poster competition, later used for publication. Next, the judges filled out an online form that tabulated and sent the results to the organizing committee. Finally, we conducted a final meeting with the judges on zoom at a preselected time.
In addition to convenience, this poster competition created visibility for the academic work at an unprecedented scale, leading to improved networking and career growth opportunities. Furthermore, the presenter’s family and friends had a chance to see and appreciate the work. Since we set specific times for the judge-presenter interaction, it made it easy for both parties to balance their responsibilities and participate in this experiment.
As a result, this project has highlighted an academic innovation while also considering the presenter’s and judge’s well-being. See the box for the Twitter analytic data for the last two year’s poster competitions.
Traditional academic rigidity dictates scholarly activities like poster completion take place in person. However, the disruptions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic have highlighted the need to develop innovative solutions. Merging social media like Twitter with academic medicine reveals data-driven broader visibility and interaction while balancing social distancing and accounting for the challenges faced by the participants. We feel this modality of academic experimentation should be utilized more.