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I'm Not a Doctor

A second opinion on the challenges and opportunities facing today's physicians.
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By Andis Robeznieks

Blog: AAFP president-elect talks social-media savvy

11:15 am, Oct. 25

It's not uncommon these days for newly elected physician association leaders to hop on the social-media bandwagon, but the American Academy of Family Physicians' new president-elect, Dr. Reid Blackwelder—a.k.a. @blackweldermd—is an old pro.

Blackwelder has sent 3,429 tweets to 690 followers since joining Twitter in May 2011, but he has been on Facebook a lot longer. First elected to the AAFP board in 2009, Blackwelder is the director of the medical student educational division within the James H. Quillen College of Medicine's family medicine department at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, Tenn. He first joined Facebook as a way of connecting with his students.

The 2004-2005 president of the Tennessee Academy of Family Physicians, Blackwelder said he stepped up his Facebook activity as he became more involved with the state and national academy chapters. Now he cross-posts everything on both Facebook and Twitter.

Blackwelder said he discovered live-tweeting while attending a meeting and seeing the AAFP's medical resident representative, Dr. Kevin Bernstein (@BernieMD31), pecking away at a keyboard. He learned that Bernstein was "taking notes in Tweet form" for the benefit of a colleague who couldn't attend that session and wanted to find out what happened.

Except for live-tweeting from an event, Blackwelder said he usually keeps to three to five tweets a day: an opening inspirational tweet, around three educational or informational tweets with links to source material, and an evening "thought for the day to allow people to wind down." The tweets are buffered so they're sent out several hours apart, which allows him to "maintain a presence" even while he's seeing patients, teaching or tending to AAFP matters.

"I'm very cautious about tweeting things that are personal or for a limited audience," he explained. "I want you to sense it has value—I know if I'm telling you what I'm having for lunch, it's a waste of your time."

Blackwelder said he was a little nervous about sending the "thought" tweets, but added that those are the messages that more often get retweeted or "liked" on Facebook, while the informational links he provides sometimes get only a few clicks.

In addition to his social media presence, Blackwelder is known for his prominent beard. A native of Decatur, Ga., Blackwelder said he started growing it while attending Haverford College, a Quaker institution outside of Philadelphia. It was his first time away from home and it was time to do something rebellious, but the nature of his curly hair made it problematic.

"It looks stupid short, so I had to let it grow," he said. “I was thinking of shaving it, but my wife saw a (clean-shaven) picture of me in high school and laughed, so I'm never shaving."

Blackwelder has had a beard now for 36 years, and it has become a personal trademark.

"It used to be black," he said. "Now it's salt and pepper—with an emphasis on the salt."

Follow Andis Robeznieks on Twitter: @MHARobeznieks.

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