In this edition, Angela C. Weyand, MD, talks about harnessing the power of social media to network with colleagues, educate the public about hematology, and raise funds for good causes.
Where did you grow up? What was your childhood like?
I had an idyllic childhood in the suburbs of Kansas City. My mother was a physician and my father was an elementary school teacher. They emphasized learning, curiosity, and education, as well as volunteering and giving back to the community.
What did you want to be when you grew up? Is there another career you could see yourself in?
As a child, I cycled through many different career ideas. I loved animals, so at one point I was set on being a veterinarian. We always had pets, and my brothers and I would bring home stray cats and other animals. But when I learned about euthanasia, I decided I couldn’t handle that and dropped the idea.
In high school and college I was open-minded, except I was convinced that I did not want to be a physician. Medicine was not the field for me. My mom was probably part of that decision: She was an adult neuro-oncologist and an early adopter of palliative care. So, she was basically a saint. Everywhere I went, people would ask if I was going to follow in my mom’s footsteps. I’ve always been very independent, so I wanted to forge my own path. I also think I felt that I couldn’t compete with her.
What changed your mind? How did you end up becoming a doctor?
Although my parents were focused on education, they never pressured me or my brothers to go into any specific career. When I arrived at Northwestern University as an undergraduate, everyone advised me to take whatever courses most interested me. So, I majored in economics and communications.
For a while, I thought I would end up working for a nongovernmental organization or the World Bank, where I could drive economic growth and development in low- and middle-income countries. I spent some time working in finance, but decided that if I was going to work so many hours, I wanted to more directly contribute to society and do some good in the world.
During that period, I took some time off to help my father recover from surgery. While I was at home, I ended up accompanying my mom to work and seeing firsthand the amazing relationships that she formed with her patients. Growing up, I knew that she worked more hours than my friends’ parents, which was difficult at times, but I always understood that her work was important. The people she was helping really needed her help.
That experience going to work with my mom opened my eyes to the possibility of a career change, and finally following in my mom’s footsteps. I enrolled in a post-baccalaureate program at Northwestern, where I worked in clinical research coordination during the day and took my prerequisite courses for medical school at night. That was a great opportunity to see how clinical research is done. I still use the knowledge I gained from that experience to this day.
What drew you to hematology and specifically bleeding and clotting disorders?
I always wanted to work with kids. During my pediatrics residency at the University of Washington/Seattle Children’s Hospital, I enjoyed taking care of the sicker children with more complicated pathophysiology. While I was thinking about what I wanted to do, I was torn between specializing in hematology/oncology or critical care, working in the intensive care unit (ICU).
With hematology, I realized that I could still see patients in the ICU, because hematologists are often consulted on the most complicated bleeding and clotting cases. I liked that I could still get that intensive care perspective, but also have continuity with the patients I followed for longer periods of time.
Is there anyone in particular who helped shape your career path?
I’ve been fortunate to work with great people throughout my career. Steve Pipe, MD, and Jordan Shavit, MD, PhD, at the University of Michigan are wonderful mentors and sponsors. I think Dr. Pipe has more faith in me than I have in myself. He continues to offer me opportunities that I never feel fully qualified for but, fortunately, turn out well and are incredibly beneficial to my career.
What advice did they give that you might pass on to younger hematologists?
Dr. Pipe advised me to find an area that I was passionate about and make that my niche. Clearly, that is the approach he took with hemophilia. So, I would offer the same advice to early-career hematologists: If you can find an area that you’re passionate about, that will make going to work every day exciting and satisfying.
You’ve reached a wide audience via social media. Can you tell us about it?
I joined Twitter in 2017, but I didn’t understand it for the first couple years. In 2019, I became a more active user and started following hematology-related accounts, such as Michael Makris, MD, a hemophilia expert. I enjoyed reading his Tweets about the new drug discoveries and trial data he was hearing about at these amazing international meetings. It was awesome to see these new data through the lens of someone with much more experience and expertise than me.
Around that time, I started using Twitter in a more professional capacity, following more medical accounts and reading through Tweetorials, which are basically just threads of Tweets in which you can expound on any topic. I felt like this type of communication matched my learning style. And, because we have so many fun topics and mysteries in hematology, writing Tweetorials is an easy way to get a broader audience excited about hematology.
I posted my first Tweetorial in December 2019 and have done several more since, on topics ranging from coagulopathy of COVID-19 to racism in the care of patients with sickle cell disease. I’m always amazed by their reach. My COVID-19 Tweetorial was seen by almost 400,000 people worldwide, which is probably way more than most of the peer-reviewed articles I’ve published.
In the fall of 2020, I started getting more requests from people on Twitter to write Tweetorials on specific topics. I had the idea that I could use these requests as an easy way to raise money for good causes. So, I started contests where the winner – whoever donated the most money – could pick my next Tweetorial topic. As a result, Paula James, MD, and I co-wrote a manuscript on the winning topic she suggested, sexism in the management of bleeding disorders.
I held another contest in December 2020, this time encouraging participants to form teams, taking advantage of the fact that physicians in general are competitive, especially between specialties. If I held a team competition, I figured I could raise more money. We ended up raising more than $360,000 in less than a week, which was donated to anti-hunger organizations. #HCWvsHunger is now an annual event and I’m hoping we raise even more this year.
Using Twitter professionally was never something that I had set out to do or considered. Now, I’ve written manuscripts with people based on ideas that came from social media. We’ve done survey research using social media. We’re starting an international registry using social media. There are so many possibilities.
I also think it can be helpful for patient and public education. For example, I often Tweet about women’s hematology issues, such as iron deficiency and normal menstrual periods. I’ve had so many people reach out to me to thank me, because one of my Tweets was the impetus for them to reach out to their doctor about treatment for their heavy periods or iron deficiency. It’s great to think that, as my following gets bigger, I can reach more and more people who might benefit from what I Tweet.
It’s been an unexpected yet positive experience. There have been so many professional benefits. I recently started as an associate editor at the American Journal of Hematology, focusing on social media, collaborations, and publications.
Tell us about your life outside of medicine – what are your hobbies? What do you do in your off-hours?
I love spending time with my two daughters, who are 5 and 7 years old. At this age, they’re able to do more activities, so I’m trying to get them into tennis, which is a lifelong hobby of mine. I love to read, travel, and try new foods and restaurants. I have a horrible sweet tooth and fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it), I love to bake.
Travel is typically a huge part of our lives, but less so during the pandemic. My favorite trips have been to Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, and Barcelona. We usually spend time each summer at a family cottage on Lake Huron in Canada, but haven’t been able to go the past two years due to the pandemic. This past summer, we took an East Coast road trip to visit family and friends.
What is one thing most people don’t know about you?
Prior to having my two daughters, I was a bit of an adventure-seeker. Between graduating from Northwestern and starting medical school, I bungee jumped in New Zealand and skydived in Chicago. I swam with sharks in Hawaii, went canyoning in Switzerland, backpacked around Europe, and did all kinds of fun things that I probably wouldn’t do now. Now, my daughters provide all the adventure I need, so I don’t think I’ll go back to bungee jumping. Thinking back on it now, maybe having two children during fellowship was the craziest thing I’ve done. It’s a whole different ball game.