Why “Seattle Mama Doc” Took Her Expertise Online

By Hallie Smith

It’s a common enough occurrence — a child wakes up in the middle of the night with troubling symptoms, and then mom or dad searches the web to try to figure out what they should ask the doctor.

Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson was the pediatrician to whom parents were bringing their questions, and she quickly realized much of the information they found online was wrong. So, she decided to start her own blog to offer a pediatrician’s (and a mother’s) perspective.

“At the time [the blog] started, it was like, ‘Well, I’m raising these kids, I will create a mommy blog that happens to have data and expertise and research of an academic hospital in arm’s reach,’” Dr. Swanson says. Though she was able to reach parents directly when they came into her office, she started the blog because doctors in the modern world, she says, “have these tools that have the capacity for one-to-many communication.”

Dr. Swanson is now the face and voice behind the Seattle Mama Doc blog and podcast, in which she talks about issues that parents may face, from concussions to smartphone usage to vaccines.

Vaccines are one of Dr. Swanson’s passions as a pediatrician. She says she was enticed by the possibility of using social media to boost her voice in talking about vaccinations.

“A big draw for me to become a physician and to use all these channels to communicate was to be the voice of a mom and a voice of a pediatrician who believes in the science,” Dr. Swanson says. “[To be the voice] who says, ‘It’s better to immunize your child on time than it is to not because the science is so clear in that way.’”

Whenever she talks about vaccinations online, however, she has to brace herself for pushback from the “anti-vaxxers” — but that doesn’t put Dr. Swanson off. She says that it’s made her think ahead more.

“I think with these new tools and my experience of using all of them through the last decade and getting comfortable with everything that I write, I’m kind of always thinking about the science about it, the opinion and experience, but I’m also thinking about the naysayers and what I’m expecting them to say,” Dr. Swanson says. “So as I form opinions or form content, I usually am thinking about what is going to come. And of course, there is always something that surprises me.”

Dr. Swanson knows that doctors being really outspoken online is still a new phenomenon, but she says she’s grateful for it.

“I live in a time that instead of just telling a family I’m passionate about something and hoping over time it works, I have the opportunity to write a Doximity bio, a LinkedIn bio, a blog on twitter, and show the work that I think is valuable and important and put it forward that way,” she says. She also points to another doctor, Jennifer Gunter, and her issues with GOOP. That strength online is the same strength Dr. Gunter has in real life, Dr. Swanson says.

“Some of us might have a really different style [of online usage]. It’s just like bedside manner — we’re all exactly who we are,” Dr. Swanson says.

That online usage is also imperative in the world of medicine today, Dr. Swanson believes. “Figure out what problem you’re trying to solve and then figure out which social tool you like and use it to solve that problem. Don’t just go on twitter to be on twitter,” she says. “I don’t think you can practice medicine exclusively offline. It doesn’t make any sense. You can’t learn as much that way and you can’t share as much that way.”

And for how wide of an audience you’re sharing with, Dr. Swanson says, don’t worry if you have fewer followers than your favorite famous physician.

“If you have the right 30 people listening to you who want to hear what you’re thinking, and those are your patients or your research subjects or your colleagues, or there’s a nonprofit in town you want to partner with, those are the right people,” Dr. Swanson says.

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