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Virtual Friendships for Physicians

Real friends, virtual friends, and unicorns

Women of Pediatric Orthopedics, Barcelona, 2018

6%. That’s how many orthopedic surgeons are women. 6.6%. or 1/15. That’s how many orthopedic surgeons in my department are women. I don’t feel like a unicorn most days. But some days I do. Few people in my real day to day life get me… take into account that I am a heterosexual married mother who likes to exercise. So the article published this month in the New England Journal of Medicine about social media and the support provided to women physicians validates my reality: I have virtual friends!

I actually have real friends, too. I am lucky. I have a group of women (and men) from college who still make me laugh and cry regularly, even though we are scattered across the country. My medical school friends, my residency friends, my mommy friends. My siblings, my mother, my tennis friends. I am not sure why I am so fortunate to have so many enduring and rich relationships. But I am a unicorn to them too.

The network of physician mothers is immense on facebook. Over 60,000 members and growing. The group is mostly supportive of one another. But snarkiness rears its ugly head at times. I have deemed myself unauthorized to participate in this group for fear of annoying fellow doctor moms. There are a few things I seek in my social media fake friends:

  1. sarcasm
  2. no judgement of one another
  3. humor, preferably about their husbands, children, and real life friends and colleagues
  4. more sarcasm

I have found these things in 3 groups.

  1. Peloton Physician Mom’s Group (a group of physician moms obsessed with the Peloton at home spinning bike, @onepeloton.com)
  2. Women in Orthopedics

3. Women in Medicine Staying Fit and Staying Sane

I did not start group 1 or 2. I did start group 3. I wanted to add women nurses, physician’s assistants, psychologists, and my mother who used to be an occupational therapist.

My virtual friends (my husband calls them fake friends) know when I am proud and when I am ashamed. When I am scared and when I am tired. They know when I had an awful night on call, and when I gain 4 pounds. They know when my children have hilarious fights and when my husband is outsmarted by my 8 year old daughter. They get my joy when my gorgeous mommy friend is the model for the fancy scrubs I wear. The fake friends have confided upcoming divorces, cancer diagnoses, miscarriages, and losses of loved ones. Encouraged one another through depression, through losing patients. When patients or nurses or partners or administrators deal unfair hands, these groups rants appropriately and advises professionally. These friends have each other’s back. Never on any of these pages has anyone ever criticized or been hurtful. This is a forum of full on amazingness.

I am grateful to Sasha K. Shillcutt, MD, and Julie K. Silver, MD, for writing about the support system that social medial provides for women physicians. Thank you to The New England Journal of Medicine, arguably the most prestigious journal in academic medicine, for validating the relationships among my virtual friends.  

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