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Art: The Patient and the Doctor, Gabriel Metsu, 1660
Normcore is all about not reading the news and not panicking, but I have to admit the threat of coronavirus has really broken my resolve.The virus chatter on Twitter has really accelerated over the past couple days. As The Protocol writes,
It felt like the day the whole tech industry decided to start talking about the virus, and what happens now. Maybe it was the news that the first community-spread case of coronavirus was so close to Silicon Valley. Maybe it was everyone listening to a deeply terrifying episode of The Daily. Whatever it was, coronavirus became the main conversation in tech.
Between the frantic tweets from VCs, new cases in new countries, and just generally news media saturation with this, it’s bee a slow and steady increase in insanity levels.
(Thanks to BatteryHorse for this tweet, by the way.)
Luckily, on one of these panic twitter threads, someone mentioned that there was a doctor who had really reassuring videos about coronavirus with just the facts, and linked to his video.
Looking for any kind of reassurance and reason among the madness, I clicked through.
“We’re going to stay alert and not anxious,” a well-groomed doctor informed me. He referenced some links from WHO and first-person testimonies from the doctor around what to expect and how patients should react to different scenarios.
I was getting ready to share the video, but something gave me pause. Something was off. His delivery was a little too slick. There were a little too many statistics and not enough personal medical opinion. It was all very...packaged. So, I decided to double-check to make sure he was a reputable source.
If you go to Doctor Mike’s YouTube page, you’re greeted with a large overlay banner prominently featuring his face with a far-off thoughtful gaze, like he’s about to star in Grey’s Anatomy rather than write you a prescription. Then, the first two rows of videos takes on memes and reactions to medical episodes. But that’s not too bad. After all, whomst among us is not online mostly to make stupid jokes? Let me cast the first stone,
But, while the videos were interesting and fun, they didn’t really instill the “medical professional you can trust” vibe, so I wanted to dig a bit further. After a brief investigation, I found that Doctor Mike, like me, immigrated from Russia when he was very little. His dad was a doctor, and Mike decided to follow in his footsteps.
Dr. Mike established his social media presence when he was a medical student. He wanted to show people what real life as a resident was like:
A unique change and unexpected turn happened in my life during my first year of residency. I was not a person who you would find on social media traditionally, but when I was introduced to Instagram, I saw it as a way to show other medical students on their journey that you don't have to give up your life to study medicine. The stigma that you can't have a life in medical school was a fallacy and I was the living proof of that.
So, I used Instagram as a platform to show my everyday life, to show what it's like to be buried in a book one day, at a fashion party the following day and to have a really grueling workout the next. It surprised people, so I got a lot of followers over the course of three years.
After a few years of posting to a smaller audience, Buzzfeed introduced him to the world in a piece of blockbuster journalism,titled “Um, You really need to see this hot doctor and his dog.”
After that media frenzy, he was labeled the “hot doctor” and featured in People Magazine as the Sexiest Doctor Alive.
I had to pause for a moment. It threw me, because I was working so hard to become a professional. It was easy to view this as a superficial platform. I was faced with a crossroads where I had to make a decision: Am I going to accept this title of sexy doctor? Or am I going to continue down the path of being a strict professional and just doing what I do without the media's blessing? I thought there was a possibility for a middle ground.
It seems like Dr. Mike was able to navigate the dilemma, because he now has millions of followers, and some serious endorsement money.
Med students aren’t alone here—physicians and residents have also engaged in native advertising for brands on platforms like Instagram in recent years. One example is Dr. Mike Varshavski, a family medicine physician in New York with more than 2.9 million Instagram followers. He’s promoted Quaker oats, Old Spice deodorant, and Fox’s new medical drama,The Resident, just in the past year. Although ethically in the clear by the standards of professional organizations like the American Medical Association, practicing health professionals are likely more aware of both the good and the bad implications of that decision to advertise.
And you can tell by his Instagram, which looks like this:
But who is Normcore to judge if he’s attending Pegasus Cup International and asking me to appraise his outfit? The only thing I care about is that he tells me what’s really going on with coronavirus.
Was he effective in calming my fears? A little.
But his hustle in general got me interested in and worried about this growing trend of advice from medical professionals online who are also trying to become influencers and make money from their brand.
Being a nursefluencer, a term that I have admittedly made up but that describes a growing population, is similar to being a regular influencer: You get someone to take pictures (for Sarah, it’s her little brother), you post often (once a day or else the algorithm will bury you, Sarah tells me), and promote products (like almost everyone I spoke to for this piece, Sarah receives free scrubs from the brand Figs).
But for Sarah, and many young health care professionals like her, a sizeable Instagram following is a salve for a litany of problems experienced by those in the field: burnout, odd hours, and a lack of a creative outlet, to start. So it’s not surprising that within the past few months, tons of accounts like hers have popped up, gaining huge followings — largely made up of fellow medical professionals — by posting an insider’s view of the industry.
It’s also raised questions about the ethics of being a health care influencer. After all, isn’t the only person who should be influencing anyone’s health their own doctor?
All of this seems very much like a gray area, for the reasons outlined in this great Slate piece on the topic:
This is not to say that doctors shouldn’t share opinions: Many physicians already do this responsibly online. On Twitter in particular, physicians have created a virtual community that opens academic debates on evidence-based research to the public, fosters camaraderie and professional support to one another, and enables physicians to speak out about important social causes (the most recent example being the #ThisIsMyLane movement).
But there is a difference between using your expertise to inform arguments and using your expertise to make some extra cash selling products to consumers. And how to ethically handle the social capital associated with a medical degree is rarely, if ever, discussed in our training. It is something we instead quietly grapple with ourselves and are expected learn how to handle with time.
The article clued me into what’s known as the medstagrammer community, of medical students and doctors, many of whom are “health influencers”, sharing their days, sometimes for sponsored products. For example, there’s Med School Milah. And, of course, there is a second Dr. Mike who is also into fitness and fashion, just in Chicago.
Searching through the related medstudent and medstagram hashtags, it was easy to find people venting about their days, sharing what life was like in the medical industry, which was really interesting. But I also found people sharing pictures of surgeries (possibly a HIPAA violation)? And lots and lots and lots of sponsored content.
In theory, a good public persona can be a huge boost. And, the doctors generally are well-intentioned. Many go online, both to burn off steam from stressful medical programs, and to combat misinformation.
There are now so many medical professionals on Instagram that at least one hospital has created an entire position to govern it. Austin Chiang, MD, a gastroenterologist and assistant professor of medicine at Jefferson Health in Philadelphia, also holds the position of chief medical social media officer, which he guesses might be the first of its kind in the country. “I always felt strongly that we need a stronger clinician presence on social media in order to really battle misinformation out there,” he says.
If it’s true that VC money has tainted public conversation, the coffee industry, baby items, and, in general, the internet as a whole, then what’s ruined credibility of doctors online (for me, at least) is the constant, ceaseless need to Brand Yourself, and a feverent hope that Instagram will bring sponsorships.
Because, when you’re trying to build a brand, it’s hard to concentrate the thing you’re actually working on - the execution culture versus the sales culture struggle all over again.
And, for many people it’s already hard enough to tell online between what’s sponsored and what’s genuine. Just look at the Kardashians as an extreme example. But it gets even worse when it’s our most sacred profession - the one that saves human lives.
Where does the celebrity end and the medicine begin?
It’s a tough question, particularly as we mostly go online for medical information these days, and it’s even more important now that we’re dealing with this massive viral outbreak that’s resulted in an equally horrible outbreak of misinformation.
Like with everything else I’m reading about coronavirus these days, I’m remaining skeptical (alert but not anxious) of Dr. Mike and his extremely freshly-pressed scrubs, recommending HALLS.
However, I was really impressed and touched to read that he saved a passenger on a plane last summer.
“We were facing a real dilemma, over the ocean with a patient in a life-threatening situation,” Dr. Mike recounted. “While the plane was not equipped with an EpiPen, luckily the Delta team did have an advanced life support kit which included the epinephrine. We needed to do some troubleshooting, adjusting the dosage and working out how to administer the medicine. We were able to work it out and administer it into his leg muscle — that for sure hurt but was the best option. Had we left the situation to deteriorate, we would have risked having to open his airways with an incision.”
And by the way, I finally did manage to find a reassuring video, and it was this one:
What I’m reading lately:
This story on Gmail’s ruthless sorting tabs
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