Esther Choo, MD, MPH (@choo_ek), is associate professor at the Center for Policy and Research in Emergency Medicine at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. Last year, after the neo-Nazi demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia, she posted a series of tweets describing the unabashed racism she has experienced as a practicing Asian-American emergency physician. When that Twitter thread was retweeted by Chelsea Clinton, it went viral and was retweeted more than 25,500 times and seen by more than 4.5 million people, giving her, and her other work, an unexpected national spotlight. I recently interviewed her over Skype.
JF: When did you first join Twitter and why?
EC: It’s been six years now. I joined on the advice of a friend from medical school, Vivek Murthy, MD, MBA, who went on to be the Surgeon General of the United States. We were having lunch, and I was like, “I don’t even know what Twitter is. I don’t get what people do there, and I don’t know how to tweet,” and he said, “Trust me, this is a powerful thing.” I was super-skeptical, but I signed up and did some things with the Doctors for America and the Obama campaign around health care messaging. I participated and then kind of forgot about it. And then this FOAM [free open access medical education] thing happened, so I dipped back in and tried to participate in the ways that many people do. I met Seth Trueger, MD, MPH (@MDAware), and I was in the same office as Megan Ranney, MD, MPH (@MeganRanney). A bunch of us wrote a Twitter paper about what you should do with it in academia. Those were the days when most people thought it was a waste of time.
JF: How many followers did you have before your legendary thread about racism, because now you have around 25,000?
EC: I think I had four or five thousand.
JF: So at that point you were a fairly well-known academic on Twitter but this moment brought you a new type of following, right?
EC: Yes. Up until the low 1,000s, I had a tight circle. Even that number felt pretty tight. I knew who people were, mostly other physicians and health care providers, but it felt really rich. The beautiful thing at that range was feeling like I had colleagues internationally and a good mix of students, trainees, and people senior to me that I could learn from. When you hit that level, there’s momentum, and I felt like it became very interactive.