View from the ground, by Dr Sarah Merrifield
Like many others at the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, I found myself wondering how to spend my free time once socialising and going out were off the cards. I had recently downloaded TikTok, which at the time felt very much like an app for the young!
I had never really been drawn to the artistic and inspirational aesthetic of Instagram, but I enjoyed watching TikTok’s short-form videos. I found myself chuckling at the silliness of it all as I scrolled through creative films of people dancing, lip-syncing, making jokes, and more. Perhaps there was a role for a medical education channel, I wondered?
And so, I started creating my own videos. Initially, I focused on making learning aids for medical students—quick snapshots of the mnemonics and tools I had found useful as an undergraduate. Did I feel a bit daft pointing at speech bubbles in time with pop songs? Absolutely! But it passed the time on my days off while my husband was at work, so I carried on.
Soon, my channel began to grow. I kept gaining followers: not just medical students, but members of the public and other healthcare professionals too. As the media denigration of GPs picked up speed, I wondered whether we needed a fresh approach to communicating what we do, so I embarked on a one-woman public relations mission. I created videos showing what a typical day or week looked like for me in general practice. I talked about the high and low points of my career to date, and I tried to convey the challenges I faced—to demonstrate that I was a human being as well as a doctor.
This led to other opportunities. I was approached by a large health and beauty brand to make an educational video. I also joined a network of inspirational scientists and doctors from around the world working with Team Halo to combat vaccine misinformation.
Of course, it wasn’t all plain sailing. On several occasions, I was trolled by anonymous users who would comment on anything and everything: my lack of makeup skills, my voice, my age. I repeatedly reread the GMC’s social media guidance,1 worried that I might be doing something wrong.
However, the negative aspects were outweighed by positive experiences. I gained new online friends, I learned from other professionals on the platform, and a lovely person who played the ukelele even wrote a song about me! I amassed a community of lovely followers, and gained insight into their health experiences.
Unfortunately, in the summer of 2021, I experienced a personal tragedy and had to take a step back from social media (and life in general).2 At that time, I was pleasantly surprised by the concern of strangers on TikTok. Without knowing where I had gone or why, many people left comments simply asking if I was okay. When I posted a few months later to explain, I was overwhelmed by the kindness and compassion shown. That post even led me to connect with a GP in Australia, who had sadly been in the same situation I found myself in. Despite us never having met, his support was just what I needed at a time when I felt at my lowest, and I am forever grateful to him.
As I’m starting to feel more like myself, I’m hoping to get back on to the platform in the next few months. Social media can be a tricky arena to navigate, but interacting with people from all walks of life can help to provide some much-needed balance. Although care and caution are needed as a medical professional on social media, there are many benefits and connections to be gained.
Dr Sarah Merrifield
GP and Clinical Lecturer
If you would like to follow Dr Merrifield’s TikTok, you can find her at @tiktokgpdoc
1. General Medical Council. Doctors’ use of social media. London: GMC, 2013. Available at: www.gmc-uk.org/ethical-guidance/ethical-guidance-for-doctors/doctors-use-of-social-media
2. Merrifield S. How I was able to rediscover joy in my work following a family tragedy. www.guidelinesinpractice.co.uk/view-from-the-ground/how-i-was-able-to-rediscover-joy-in-my-work-following-a-family-tragedy/456936.article (accessed 15 June 2022).