Doctors on TikTok Try to Go Viral

They have M.D.s, but are they up for this challenge?

Dr. Danielle Jones, a gynecologist at Baylor Scott and White Health in College Station, Tex., films videos for TikTok and YouTube about women’s health at home on her days off.

Dr. Danielle Jones, a gynecologist at Baylor Scott and White Health in College Station, Tex., films videos for TikTok and YouTube about women’s health at home on her days off.Credit…Katie Hayes Luke for The New York Times

For decades, sex education in the classroom could be pretty cringey. For some adolescents, it meant a pitch for abstinence; others watched their teachers put condoms on bananas and attempt sketches of fallopian tubes that looked more like modern art.

On TikTok, sex ed is being flipped on its head. Teenagers who load the app might find guidance set to the pulsing beat of “Sex Talk” by Megan Thee Stallion.

A doctor, sporting scrubs and grinning into her camera, instructs them on how to respond if a condom breaks during sex: The pill Plan B can be 95 percent effective, the video explains.

The video is the work of Dr. Danielle Jones, a gynecologist in College Station, Tex., and so far has racked up over 11 million views. Comments range from effusive (“this slaps”) to eye-rolling (“thanks for the advice mom” and “ma’am, I’m 14 years old”).

“My TikTok presence is like if you had a friend who just happens to be an OB/GYN,” Dr. Jones said. “It’s a good way to give information to people who need it and meet them where they are.”

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Dr. Jones is one of many medical professionals working their way through the rapidly expanding territory of TikTok, the Chinese-owned short-form video app, to counter medical misinformation to a surging audience. The app has been downloaded 1.5 billion times as of November, according to SensorTower, with an audience that skews young; 40 percent of its users are ages 16 to 24.

Although medical professionals have long taken to social media to share healthy messages or promote their work, TikTok poses a new set of challenges, even for the internet adept. Popular posts on the app tend to be short, musical and humorous, complicating the task of physicians hoping to share nuanced lessons on health issues like vaping, coronavirus, nutrition and things you shouldn’t dip in soy sauce. And some physicians who are using the platform to spread credible information have found themselves the targets of harassment.

Dr. Rose Marie Leslie, a family medicine resident physician at the University of Minnesota Medical School, said TikTok provided an enormous platform for medical public service announcements.

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