In this episode, we welcome Dr. Kevin Pho of KevinMD to the podcast. Dr. Pho talks about social media and physicians, the benefits and things to look out for. He also talks about physicians and vulnerability, why it can be hard but why it’s necessary.
“Each week is definitely a new week and I think that has kept me going in my clinical role, having those interests outside of what I traditionally do.” – Dr. Kevin Pho of KevinMD
In episode 167, Dr. Jen Barna welcomes Dr. Kevin Pho of KevinMD to the podcast. Dr. Pho is a practicing, board-certified internal medicine physician, a national media commentator, co-author of the book, Establishing, Managing, and Protecting Your Online Reputation: A Social Media Guide for Physicians and Medical Practices, and an acclaimed keynote speaker. In this episode, he tells Dr. Barna about what his week usually looks like and why he thinks it’s so important for physicians to have identities and interests outside of their clinical roles. He also explains why social media can be so powerful for physicians to use for many different reasons and outlines how and why it can be useful. He also shares what he has on the horizon for KevinMD and his other projects.
Dr. Kevin Pho is the owner, founder, and editor of KevinMD.com, where he also conceives and executes digital strategy, and directs technology infrastructure. It now receives over 3 million monthly page views, and exceeds 250,000 followers on Facebook and Twitter.
His commentary regularly appears in USA Today, where he is a member of its editorial Board of Contributors, as well as CNN and the New York Times. His opinion pieces highlight the challenges everyday doctors face, ranging from the primary care shortage to the epidemic of physician burnout.
Kevin understands the nuanced issues that clinicians face when they manage their online reputations, expand into the social media space, or prepare a high-stakes keynote speech. He shares his extensive experience through personalized, 1-on-1 coaching.
Kevin received his medical degree at Boston University School of Medicine and practices primary care in Nashua, New Hampshire. He was a member of the New Hampshire Union Leader’s 40 Under Forty, an inductee to the Healthcare Internet Hall of Fame, recipient of the American Medical Writers Association’s McGovern Award, and named a top doctor in the state by New Hampshire Magazine in 2017 through 2020.
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Podcast produced by: Amanda Taran
Please enjoy the full transcript below
Dr. Kevin: Each week is definitely a new week and I think that has kept me going in my clinical role, having those interests outside of what I traditionally do.
Jen: Welcome to DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast. I’m Dr. Jen Barna, founder, CEO of DocWorking and cohost of the podcast. I just want to take a moment to thank you for joining us here. If you’re listening or watching us on YouTube, we really appreciate you being here, we appreciate your feedback. Please like and subscribe and please let us know what you’d like to hear more of.
I’m excited to have with me here today, Dr. Kevin Pho. Kevin is the owner, founder, and editor of kevinmd.com. With over 3 million page views per month, Kevin has been called social media’s leading physician voice. He is a practicing board-certified internal medicine physician, a national media commentator, co-author of the book, Establishing, Managing, and Protecting Your Online Reputation: A Social Media Guide for Physicians and Medical Practices. Welcome to DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast, Dr. Kevin Pho.
Dr. Kevin: Well, thank you for having me. It’s great to be here.
Jen: I’m so interested in hearing about your experience. First of all, just how is your week going so far?
Dr. Kevin: [laughs] My week’s going great. I am an internal medicine primary care doctor. I practice primary care two and a half days a week and Thursdays and Fridays, I do a podcast like you, where I interview guests on KevinMD. So, it’s a fantastic blend of doing what I was traditionally trained in with something completely new.
Jen: Yeah. So, as a practicing physician, podcast host, keynote speaker, author, all these different facets of your work at this point, how does a typical week unfold for you?
Dr. Kevin: Well, the typical week isn’t necessarily planned and I think that I actually like it that way. Because I think if physicians, and I’m sure that you talk to a lot of doctors who just do one thing, whether it’s seeing patients, or doing procedures, or going to the hospital, I think that is a journey to burnout, because I talk to a lot of physicians myself on my own podcast, and on KevinMD, and the physician burnout rate is approaching 50%, and that was before the pandemic.
One of the things that I’ve heard from these doctors is that we need to be more than our degrees and we need to have interests outside of medicine. Because having only that interest in medicine is going to perpetuate that path to burnout. For what I do, I love primary care. I love what I do. I love making that difference in patients’ lives and moving that needle. But I think that if I were to do that full time, five days a week, and 60, 70, 80 hours a week, I don’t know how much longer I would be able to do that. I cut down to part time.
Like I said, I have other activities like the podcast, like editing KevinMD, and before the pandemic, I would do more speaking and hopefully that’s going to ramp back up now that live events are starting to happen. But each week is definitely a new week and I think that has kept me going in my clinical role, having those interests outside of what I traditionally do.
Jen: What was the evolution of kevinmd.com? I know you started that a while ago. You were one of the first physicians really in the social media space. How has that evolved from what you were doing at the beginning to what it has become?
Dr. Kevin: Well, I’d like to say that I had a grand plan from the very beginning, but I’d be lying if I said that. I started KevinMD back, let me just look here, 2004. At that time, blogs were just in its infancy and I just really followed the trends of social media. You had blogs, and then you had other platforms, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, and you just followed trends in other industries. One of the things I say is that, if you follow trends in other industries, in a few years, healthcare is going to catch up to that industry. So, I looked at how other industries would use social media and use platforms to get their voice across. I thought that, “Hey, as physicians, we also need to get our voices heard, because a lot of the decisions that are being made on our behalf, they’re being made by those not necessarily involved with medicine or if they are involved with medicine, they’re not practicing physicians.”
I think it’s important to really have our voices be heard and let the public know that this is what’s going on behind the scenes. As social media evolves, I thought that it was a wonderful way for physicians without any necessarily media training, because I certainly didn’t have any media training, to really get online, share their stories, share their voice and be heard. I’ve had countless examples of physicians who have made that difference whether it’s connecting with mainstream media, getting newspaper gigs, appearing on television, going into politics, and they’ve started on social media. They’ve started by contributing an article in KevinMD and making that jump from social media to mainstream media, so they can make their voices heard, so they can move that needle and hopefully improve the lives of clinicians and patients.
Seeing that evolution over almost 20 years now has been fascinating and playing a little bit of a role in getting physicians and voices across the healthcare spectrum to be heard, and improve patient care, and improve the lives of clinicians today has been gratifying.
Jen: Is there anything about the way this whole venture has evolved and how your career has changed due to your social media presence that was unexpected?
Dr. Kevin: I don’t think that I expected it to be such a big part of what I do professionally. When you go to medical school and residency, you’re only trained to do one thing. And even now, physicians are trained to do one thing and that’s, of course, see patients, do procedures, be in the operating room, go to the hospital. One of the things I learned is that physicians are so much more than their degrees. That’s especially true in our world, like in the podcasting world and I’m sure that you’ve met so many physicians who’ve done things outside the exam room. It just opened my eyes that we can be so much more than our degrees. I’ve met physicians who’ve done coaching, they do so much nonclinical work, they do a hybrid like me, where you do part time clinical and they start businesses, they go into real estate investment, you just name it. Having that physician degree opens up so many doors outside of the exam room and outside of the hospital that I truly didn’t expect.
Even for me speaking personally, just talking to you and talking to physicians across the country, on my show, and reading their stories on KevinMD, it’s opened up so many doors for me as well. Speaking and having a speaking bureau and having all these rules outside of the exam room, it certainly has been unexpected, rewarding certainly, but definitely unexpected.
Jen: Absolutely. It is amazing how once you step into the social media world, you do begin to meet people who have similar interests, and who are doing things that you’ve never thought of, and it does really expand your view of what physicians can do. And also, just even hearing about working part time and making that choice. You bring up a great point, which is that, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. There’s a lot in between working full time, and working overtime, and doing nothing but working. There are ways to balance that, so that you do have time to develop interests, even if you haven’t figured out what those interests are yet, to develop interests outside of medicine.
Dr. Kevin: I completely agree with what you said. There are so many times where I’m just approached out of the blue by a physician who may have listened to a show of mine, or read a blog post, or go on these physician-only Facebook groups and they tell me, “Kevin, I didn’t realize I can do that.” I think that pushing those boundaries of what defines a physician, I think that, that has been the biggest evolution over the years. Because at our current trajectory, we talk about the great resignation. We talked about so many people in healthcare leaving the field and medicine is certainly no example.
I’ve known and heard of countless physicians, who are resigning or retiring in their 40s and just doing other things, because the work situation that a lot of physicians are in is simply untenable going forward. Redefining the role of what physicians traditionally are, and like we said before, it’s not necessarily full time in the clinic or hospital, but doing things part time and using that other time to re-nourish their soul, so they could continue doing what they’re doing in clinical medicine, I think that has to go forward in terms of what we need to define a future physician to be.
Jen: Yeah, absolutely. One thing that I hear our coaches at DocWorking talk about a lot is agency and the concept of recognizing what we can control and what we can’t control. First of all, once you recognize that being able to focus your energy on the things that you can control rather than letting your stress build around things that are outside of your control, I think that’s such a helpful concept. Because you can apply it initially to help alleviate stress and anxiety, and focus on what you can control. But once you begin to do that, you also begin to explore ways that you may be able to influence things that you thought were outside of your control. That’s really one of my hopes with DocWorking is that, by providing tools to physicians to prevent burnout and put them in the driver’s seat of their own lives that then they can turn around and say, “I can affect change within the healthcare system,” because the system itself is in deep need of serious change.
As physicians, once we feel we have some agency in our own lives, we can then turn around and apply that back at the table to make changes within our own organizations and then hopefully affect the larger healthcare system in that way. I’m curious, too, with being in social media as you are. I think a lot of physicians are hesitant about stepping into that, because of the idea of vulnerability and exposing themselves, I think we’re trained to avoid being vulnerable, avoid admitting vulnerability. And so, I’m wondering how you have felt that, as you’re often referred to as social media’s leading physician voice. So, in that role, how have you found the line between making yourself vulnerable, but also protecting yourself?
Dr. Kevin: I think that when you share stories and opinions, there’s always going to be people who may attack you, you open yourself up to opposing views. I think that there’s always a chance that that vulnerability can backfire. But that being said, I think that it’s really important for physicians to indeed show that vulnerability, because that stereotypical perspective of a physician being impervious to vulnerability, not to show weakness, never let them show that you’re sweating, I think that’s an antiquated notion. I think that one of the things that I try to expound on is that, physicians are humans, like, we’re human too. Just because we do these amazing procedures, and see patients in the exam room, and we work 80 to 100 hours per week, that doesn’t mean we’re any less human than anyone else. We all have families, we all have a lot of the issues that we see our own patients for. So, I think that it’s tremendously important to show that vulnerability and we got a lot of responses.
I have a lot of articles on my site where physicians pour their heart out and in the comments they say that, “This is happening to me, too.” It’s important to have that collective, where physicians show that, “Hey, we’re human. This is happening to me and we’re not suffering through this alone.” Having a platform, whether it’s KevinMD, or there are plenty of private physician Facebook groups where they are physicians only, that I read every day and there are a lot of heartbreaking stories that physicians share that show tremendous vulnerability. In the comments, it’s so important to have that support from other healthcare professionals, who may be going through the same thing. I think that’s important when physicians share those stories and they realize that they’re not alone in going through these struggles.
Jen: Yeah, I completely agree. From talking with physicians all over the country, I was surprised when I began that conversation to realize that a lot of things I felt isolated about were the same pain points that other physicians were experiencing, and it’s easy to stay alone and feel you have to solve these problems yourself, and think that you are the only one having the problems. When in reality, we are collectively sharing a lot of the same pain points. So, having that sense of community, which is something that we’ve created at DocWorking THRIVE, and I know you have with the Facebook group on your platform, I think having a place where you can go where you are part of a community and you can share some vulnerability in a safe place is invaluable, really, in terms of helping to prevent burnout.
Dr. Kevin: I completely agree with you. When it comes to social media, I talk to a lot of doctors, who are hesitant to go on because of all the toxicity that we hear, especially on Twitter, you have a lot of political toxicity and I certainly understand that. Whenever I talk to clinicians, I don’t tell them, “You have to go online,” you certainly do what you’re comfortable with. You always have to ask yourself, “What are your goals for social media? Is it really to share these stories of vulnerability, is it to advocate for patients to make a change?” You can go into politics. There’re so many different goals that you could use social media for.
When I talk to physicians or for these clinicians listening to this podcast, always ask yourself, “Why do I want to go into social media?” And then you could find the platforms that fit those goals. You hear a lot of downsides about social media and a lot of them are true, but I do think that there continue to be a lot of upsides when it comes to social media and physicians adopting it.
Jen: I would love to hear a little bit about the book that you’ve co-authored, giving advice about social media. Can you tell us about that?
Dr. Kevin: Yeah. It’s Establishing, Managing, and Protecting Your Online Reputation. It is a little bit dated. It was published many years ago. Every year in social media is like a decade in real life in terms of the evolution. But the concepts remain the same. And it’s a book where I try to demystify why physicians should use social media. Because even now, I wrote that book seven, eight years ago, back then, people were wondering, “Why should I use social media?” People ask me now, they have that same question. So, really, it goes into three points.
Number one, we need to certainly educate patients, because when patients go online, searching for healthcare information is one of the most popular reasons why they go online. And that’s especially been more important during the pandemic and we hear nothing but misinformation about the COVID vaccine, and COVID itself, and it’s been so politicized. So, I do think it’s so important for physicians to use online media to really spread reputable health information.
The second reason, of course, is the online reputation piece, because patients are googling their physicians. It’s important for physicians to take control of their online presence.
And the third part is what we talk about in terms of sharing our stories, whether to be vulnerable and get support from people, who are commiserating with us or sharing stories to advocate for change in healthcare. So, I try to propose a case in this book in terms of a little bit more of a positive perspective of why physicians should adopt social media, because there is a lot of negativity out there, but I do think that those social media tools continue to be tremendously powerful for healthcare professionals.
Jen: What’s next on the horizon for you, Kevin and for KevinMD?
Dr. Kevin: Well, I think I’m going to continue on this trajectory. I think COVID has brought a lot of things to light. I think that one of the things that we realize is, COVID has made a lot of physicians realize that our jobs aren’t as secure as they once were. You hear a lot of emergency room physicians, after they risk their lives treating people in the early stages of COVID, now, they’re getting laid off after the group has been bought by private equity groups. I, myself, as a primary care physician, I was put on furlough for months after the first few months of COVID.
We need to realize that being a physician isn’t as secure as we thought it was. It’s important to once again, be more than our degrees and find avenues outside of clinical medicine, not only to help us with burnout, but really to make us rely less on seeing patients, because a lot of the things that are controlling medicine. Like you said, it’s out of our control. We need to be empowered and take that control back. Give us back that agency, so we can use those degrees to thrive going forward and place more things that are under our control. So, that’s what I’m going to continue to do, is share these stories and like you, we have a podcast, where KevinMD authors can share their stories in their own words, and I’m going to continue talking to doctors across the country.
It’s a daily podcast. We’re almost up to 700 episodes, and it’s just really talking to physicians, and my job is very easy. I sit back and just learn from them. But hearing their stories and what they say in their own words has been tremendously gratifying to see.
Jen: Absolutely. Well, thank you for everything that you’re doing for all of us in the healthcare sector. It’s great to be able to see all of the resources that are available at kevinmd.com and to listen to your podcast. So, thank you so much for coming on to DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast and for this conversation.
Dr. Kevin: Thanks for having me.
Jen: Thank you for being here with us and listening to this conversation today with Dr. Kevin Pho of kevinmd.com. If you are identifying with any of the things that we talked about, if you are interested in community and coaching to live your best life, please check us out at docworking.com, please check out our programs in DocWorking THRIVE, and we hope to see you on the platform with our coaches and with your peer community. Thanks again for listening and we’ll see you next time on DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast.
Amanda: I’m Amanda Taran, producer of DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast. Thank you so much for listening. Please don’t forget to like and subscribe, and head over to docworking.com to see all we have to offer.