Sip the FOAM: 6 Tips on Getting Started

Edward Lew

Edward Lew , MD

Emergency Physician, Santa Clara Valley Medical Center

Published May 31, 2016

Last month, Perspectives published a call to action for healthcare professionals. In this era of change and accountability, it's important that we broaden our evidence bases, plug our knowledge gaps, and keep up with the latest medical advances. Many providers are accomplishing this in real-time through FOAM, also known as free open-access medical education.

FOAM is both a collection of online resources and a community of learners. It allows us to accelerate, personalize, and extend our learning for the benefit of colleagues, patients, and ourselves.

So, are you feeling the FOAM? Maybe you want to get started, but you're not quite sure what to do. In today's post, I'll offer a few tips to help you join in on the conversation.

1. Join Twitter.

“Really, Twitter?” I know. I’ve been there.

Even as a so-called “Millennial,” I had initial reservations about this social media avenue. But I soon realized that I’ve been missing an entire community of medical educators dropping knowledge bombs with every tweet.

Twitter is one of the quickest ways to discover the most up to date medical information. Sign up through, or download the app on your smartphone.

Still not sure about this Twitter thing? Watch this step-by-step video by Dr. Rob Rogers (@EM_Educator) to get you started.

2. Follow the Leader.

More than likely, the leaders in your specialty are leveraging social media and are on Twitter themselves. Why wait for that medical conference that's still two months away or that journal you’ll inevitably put your favorite coffee mug on?

Start your foray into FOAM by following the educational leaders whose voices and opinions you respect. Engage them, tweet them. You’d be surprised how Twitter and FOAM levels the playing field and creates parallel learning rather than the traditional teacher-student dynamic.

Some esteemed handles to follow:
  • @amalmattu – Amal Mattu, MD; emergency cardiology and electrocardiography
  • @emcrit – Scott Weingart, MD; emergency critical care
  • @M_Lin – Michelle Lin, MD; academic emergency medicine
  • @mr_astvad – Mads Astvad, MD; anesthesia, critical care, and education with a pediatric focus
  • @SHMLive – Society of Hospital Medicine
  • @FutureDocs – Vinny Arora, MD; internal and hospital medicine with an emphasis on students and residents
3. #FollowTheHashtag.

Using the # symbol in front of a word (or group of words) labels and categorizes the topic for conversation.

For healthcare providers, this can apply from entire field (such as #primarycare), a specific medical conference (#hospmed15), or a subspecialty (#FOAMtox).

For instance, if you want to see what people are saying about the Society of General Internal Medicine 2016 conference, you'd search Twitter for the hashtag #SGIM16 (Pro tip: most conferences display their hashtag on their website and promotions).

The hashtag search displays a running feed of every tweet that includes #SGIM16. You'll likely see folks sharing bits of wisdom gleaned from the presentations or discussing issues that were raised. If you tweet using that hashtag, you have joined the conversation.

Some relevant hashtags that may interest you:
  • #FOAMed – free open access medical education
  • #FOAMems – free open access emergency medical services
  • #FOAMped – free open access pediatrics
  • #EMconf – emergency medicine residency conference
  • #primarycare – primary care
  • #anesthesia – anesthesia
  • #internalmedicine – internal medicine
4. Consume vs. Participate.

As a beginner, sometimes less is more. So if the FOAM world seems overwhelming, start off by being a consumer.

By creating a community of people and content to follow, you will start to develop an understanding of what FOAM can offer. Tailor it to your interests. Remove content and people that don’t appeal to you. As you become more comfortable with Twitter, participate in the conversation. Tweet. Reply. Ask questions.

Provide insight. Providers in groups such as ours have so much practical knowledge to add to the medical education world. There is no reason academic providers must dominate the conversation. Let’s share knowledge and help propel a new wave of education that can transform healthcare and health professions education.

5. Surf the Web.

If you would like to start to tread lightly in social media and avoid Twitter for now, that’s OK. FOAM can still be a part of your educational toolbox.

In fact, chances are that you may be already using it in the form of blogs, podcasts, Google hangouts, online videos, text documents, photographs, Facebook groups, and much more.

As you build and use your own FOAM library, you can put them all in a one-stop shop called an aggregator (e.g. Feedly). However, I first recommend perusing what’s out there and bookmarking your favorite resources in your browser.

Here are a few sites to get you started:

6. Be professional.

Whether you are commenting on a blog or tweeting your thoughts, remain professional and respectful. These are your colleagues — your international medical community.

Remember, HIPAA still applies. Never mention a specific case. It’s generally better to communicate with generalities and hypotheticals. Anyone can access FOAM and social media, including patients and employers. Common sense is the golden rule.

Many times, we can be isolated in our emergency departments, hospitals, and clinics. Our medical knowledge can be this way too. Our clinical discussions are limited to our immediate colleagues. We wait for the next conference, the next workshop, or the next journal issue to drop before continuing our education.

FOAM and social media break these barriers. They allow us to learn from different practices around the country and share from the frontlines in real-time.

Let’s join in on the conversation. See you in the FOAM.

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