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Consulting the Online “Hive”

By Michelle Chow, MD, CCFP, NCMP, BSc (Hons)

As a physician in your first five years of practice, it can sometimes be a daunting experience to navigate all your new responsibilities. You may find yourself in scenarios where you are unsure how to proceed, both in the professional and personal realm. It may be something as simple as a new rash you have never seen or more complicated such as negotiating a mortgage for your new home. In more recent months, it was the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic. There were no textbook articles on the subject and case reports were only starting to appear. One possible solution: I found myself turning online to the collective “hive” mind of physicians across Canada. With the increasing use of social media, it has never been easier to tap into the knowledge and experiences of hundreds and thousands of medical colleagues through online physician groups. Oftentimes, we may find we are able to answer each other’s questions or collaborate to find the answer.

Facebook is a popular platform for online physician communities, many of which evolve based on need. One useful resource that grew out of the pandemic was the Facebook group “COVID information for Canadian physicians”. At the height of the pandemic, this group fostered a supportive dialogue between specialists and generalists from across the country, all intent on sharing information about the virus. However, in addition to addressing the medical aspects of COVID-19, this group was also a platform to share about our fears and uncertainties, and to encourage each other through a difficult time.

There are numerous other online physician communities with unique mandates and interests. After having my first child, I discovered the “Calgary Physician Moms Group” and all its branches giving advice on anything from traveling with children to how to put them to sleep. Another popular online group is “Physician Financial Independence (Canada)”. Having graduated from medical school and residency does not necessarily mean we are financially literate, so this platform has allowed physicians to learn from each other’s mistakes and make more educated decisions about our financial futures. In some ways, this has taken the place of traditional mentorships. 

Online groups are also a means of connecting with other physicians to advocate for change, such as the “Alberta Physicians for Comprehensive Care”. On the lighter side, the “Calgary Physicians Choir” developed as an avenue of stress-relief for local physicians during the pandemic. There are also online communities for physicians with interests outside of medicine, such as “Physician Side Gigs”. For early career physicians, the “First 5 Years in Family Practice” Alberta and Canada chapters are good resources for locum opportunities, as well as friendly forums for asking clinical questions or for general practice advice.

Personally, the “hive” has helped me feel less lonely both as a physician and as a human being. Realizing that there are others out there facing similar challenges or who have the same interests is wonderfully refreshing. Online physician communities will only continue to grow and hopefully keep us feeling connected and foster resiliency as we all deal with the ever changing world we live in.

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