Going Viral: Conversation With the Tik Tok Doc

August 27, 2021

For most teenagers, social media use has become an integrated part of their lives. According to recent research, 85 percent of teens have at least one active social media profile and almost half of teens are online “almost constantly”. Given that our patients are increasingly spending their time online, how do we leverage social media to help improve their health outcomes? This episode features Dr. Rose Marie Leslie, the “Tik Tok Doc”, who went viral in 2019 with her health education videos about vaping and EVALI. With close to 1 million followers, many of whom are teenagers, listen as Dr. Leslie talks to us about how to use social media for health education and what things clinicians should consider before venturing online to inform and interact with their patients.


Dr. Angela Kade Goepferd: This is talking pediatrics, a clinical podcast by Children’s Minnesota, where the complex is our every day. Each week, we bring you intriguing stories and relevant pediatric healthcare information. As we partner with you in the care of your patients. Our guests, data, ideas, and practical tips will surprise, challenge and perhaps change how you care for the most amazing people on earth, kids.

Welcome to Talking Pediatrics. I’m your host, Dr. Angela Kade Goepferd. It is no secret to those of us caring for kids, how much social media has become a part of the fabric of their lives over the last decade. According to the Pew Research Center in 2018, 95% of teens had access to a smartphone, 85% had at least one active social media profile and 45% of them were online “almost constantly.” Given that our patients are increasingly spending time online, how do we leverage that to help impact their health for the better?

Joining us today on Talking Pediatrics is Dr. Rose Marie Leslie, a recently graduated resident from the University of Minnesota, North Memorial Family Medicine Residency Program here in Minneapolis, who went viral in 2019 on the video sharing app, TikTok, with her anti-vaping post.

Dr. Leslie creates 60 second clips on everything health-related, from kidney stones to menstrual cups, and has gained national attention, including the most influential creator on the 2020 TikTok top 100 list for impacting the health habits of youth with her concise, humorous and teen friendly advice and anecdotes. Dr. Leslie, thank you for joining me today.

Dr. Rose Marie Leslie: Thank you so much for having me.

Dr. Angela Kade Goepferd: Well first, congratulations on your recent graduation. It must feel good to reach that milestone. Where do you go from here? You becoming a professional influencer or a professional physician or both? What’s the plan?

Dr. Rose Marie Leslie: Focusing more so on my medical career and hoping to still do health education when I have time. So I’m going to be moving to Southern Minnesota and working in primary care and obstetrics as a family medicine doctor.

Dr. Angela Kade Goepferd: Well, let’s talk about TikTok and social media. So I imagine there are some people listening who when I said that you went viral on TikTok, really have no idea what I’m talking about when I say TikTok. So for those of our listeners who don’t know what TikTok is can you explain that platform and what it is and how it’s used?

Dr. Rose Marie Leslie: So TikTok is a video-based social media app that just came out a couple of years ago. And it has a lot of really engaging and entertaining kind of pieces to it. So people make videos that are up to a minute long. You can add music, you can add text and really these videos are about anything.

I think a lot of people know TikTok to be mostly dance videos, but there is so much more on TikTok than that. And one thing I love about it is that the everyday person can become more viral than a celebrity. So you’ll see kids who are making vegan cooking instructions from their college dorm room who have way more followers than some celebrity that you know of. So it’s a really fun app based in creativity and goofiness. So it’s really fun to use and reaches a teen audience.

Dr. Angela Kade Goepferd: So why did you decide to use TikTok specifically to try to reach teens with health information? What was it that appealed to you about that?

Dr. Rose Marie Leslie: I just started using TikTok I think as many people do, where they have a profile but don’t actually post anything, they just have a profile to watch TikToks. And I thought it was just so funny and engaging. I just started making videos. And at the time when I was a resident doctor, my whole life essentially was this training and being a resident doctor. And so I made TikToks about what I knew about my daily life and things I really enjoy.

I worked as a health educator with teens for many years prior to going to medical school. And so that’s something I love to do. So I just started creating posts with little tips and health education, and people really liked it.

Dr. Angela Kade Goepferd: So tell me a little bit more about the response that you got. So I mentioned that you went viral and I think most people locally here in the Twin Cities probably associate you with vaping. That was kind of the big thing that got people’s attention. But walk me through the journey that you went on as you started out on TikTok and started making these health education videos and went from there to the top 100 on TikTok in 2020.

Dr. Rose Marie Leslie: I think you’re right about that. The vaping piece, EVALI, was really when I started gaining traction on the app. And so when EVALI was just emerging, I started creating posts around what vaping is, what e-cigarette and vaping associated lung injury is. And kids were just jaws on the floor. They were, oh my gosh, what is this? I’ve never heard of this before. And I just rolled with it.

And I wanted to make sure that I continued creating content that was really focused on the audience there, which is mostly adolescents and young adults. And so I just would make videos and still do make videos about topics that kids want to know about, that teens want to know about and that I get asked in my clinic room. And so that’s reproductive health, that’s all sorts of things.

Like you said, menstrual cups to kidney stones. I kind of have it all in there. But I really do try to also focus on what’s in the news. And so I covered the COVID-19 pandemic and I still do quite a bit and try to break down misinformation, help people learn how to find sources that are trustworthy and sound and based in evidence and make sure kids are looking for information on the internet in places that we trust, that medical professionals trust.

Dr. Angela Kade Goepferd: Do you ever get requests from any of your followers? I want to learn more about this thing or how do you decide what you’re going to make your next video about?

Dr. Rose Marie Leslie: Yeah. I get a lot of requests. And there’s actually a function on TikTok where people can do a Q&A, ask you questions and then you can directly respond to a comment or a question with a video. So that feature is really cool because it pulls up the question from that person right at the top of your screen. And so you can reply directly to somebody in a video that’s accessible to everyone. And a lot of the questions people ask are things that many, many other people wonder about as well. So it’s a way to really feel like you’re having that conversation, like a health education conversation with people, but you make it accessible to everybody who follows you or uses the platform.

Dr. Angela Kade Goepferd: And what was the response like from your peers, your fellow residents or maybe the faculty that you work with when all of a sudden you’re on the national news talking about vaping?

Dr. Rose Marie Leslie: Everyone has been overwhelmingly supportive. Yeah. I remember I went to my advisor and program director at the time and I think they were worried that I was going to be bringing up something potentially concerning. And then I pulled out my phone and I said, hey, I just want to let you know, I’ve been making these health education videos, and people have really been watching them, following me and here’s how many followers I have. And they were pretty surprised, but in the best way. And I’ve been nothing but supported throughout my residency training and by my peers, by my faculty, by my institution, by other hospitals around the Twin Cities. It’s been really, really great. I’ve definitely felt the love from a lot of people.

Dr. Angela Kade Goepferd: And how many followers are you up to now?

Dr. Rose Marie Leslie: I think I’m just over 900,000 at this point.

Dr. Angela Kade Goepferd: So when you hit a million, is there going to be a million follower party of some kind and may I be invited?

Dr. Rose Marie Leslie: Yes, absolutely. Maybe I’ll have a cake or something like that.

Dr. Angela Kade Goepferd: I think you should. I think that’s something to be celebrated. Now that you’re solidly a social media influencer, what is that like? Does it feel exciting? Does it feel like pressure that you have to generate more content? I mean, are you sponsored, do people ask you to do particular products? Tell me a little bit about that world.

Dr. Rose Marie Leslie: I have been learning as I go, and it’s been exactly what you’ve been describing. It’s exciting, it’s thrilling to know that some of these health topics that I think are important and that I have conversations with teens about in my clinic room that these topics are important to mass amounts of people who want to know more about vaping or what could be potentially causing them to have really bad period cramps or something like that.

I mean, I do videos on all sorts of different things. That part of it is so exciting. And it’s awesome. I love just helping empower people with knowledge about their body and about their health. It definitely can be pressure sometimes and feel very overwhelming. So if some news topic comes out, I almost feel a sense of responsibility to talk about it and explain it to people.

And as a busy resident physician and upcoming doc out in practice, I sometimes don’t have time to do that. And then that’s where I think some of that pressure builds. And so I’ve kind of gone in waves. Sometimes I’m posting a lot, when I’m busier, I might not post quite as much. Overall, it’s been wonderful and I definitely have been learning about what it is to be, I guess, an influencer in social media, which is not something I ever thought I would say out loud, but there’s a lot to learn and people make careers out of this and I have another career. So I’m trying to piece the two together.

Dr. Angela Kade Goepferd: So how do you decide how much you need to be posting or how often or if there are people who are listening to this that might want to try using their social media accounts or creating professional social media accounts. Do you have to post at least once a week, once a month?

Dr. Rose Marie Leslie: I think it’s important to be intentional before you go into it. What do I have time for? How much can I realistically post? I also think it’s important, one thing that I learned in the beginning of it is that you really don’t have to fit every bit of information into one post. So you can make a post about some extremely kind of simple small fact, and people will really get a lot of benefit out of it. You can, for example, remind people to wear SPF that’s above 30. And that one fact can be its own post. And a lot of people will get benefit just out of knowing that.

So it doesn’t have to be as overwhelming I think as people think, and you can set your boundaries going into it so that you don’t get caught up with the whole, I guess, cycle of it where you want to post more and more and more. And then you’re spending hours every day thinking about it or working on it, which with social media can happen.

Dr. Angela Kade Goepferd: I would guess that you would endorse using social media as a way to reach patients, particularly young patients, kids, and teenagers. So if there’s someone out there in practice who is thinking about starting to do that over social media, what advice would you give them in terms of what platform is a good one to start on TikTok? Videos can be a little intimidating, not going to lie if you’ve never done them before. What platform should someone pick? Is it better to cover a variety of content, to be more singular in your approach?

Dr. Rose Marie Leslie: There’s so much to think about it before you go into it and thinking about what type of content you want to make, how often you want to post, who you want your target audience to be all of those things, which I would recommend to anybody, think about those things prior to going into it. For example, if you want to reach teens, you may think more about TikTok. If you want to reach young adults, millennials, then maybe Instagram would be your venue.

There’s a lot of support groups on Facebook for people with certain chronic health conditions. And so if you work with folks who specifically have one chronic health condition, you can find a big group of people, all connected with each other who are going through that, who you could connect with on Facebook. So different platforms have different benefits to them. And I think it’s important to think through those things. At the same time, it’s important to recognize that you can just post and start and being spontaneous doesn’t mean that you have to follow the one direction you start with.

You can always adjust what your content is. You can always post about different things. So you can tailor what you want to talk about over time and kind of figure it out as you go. I would just recommend that you’re always making sure to abide by HIPAA and not to talk about any patient experiences, make sure that you are basing your content in evidence. We all want to practice evidence-based medicine. So backing things up with maybe a link to the CDC or something like that can be really helpful. And so making sure that you’re really cognizant about those things and asking yourself those questions of is this evidence-based for every single post that you go through.

Dr. Angela Kade Goepferd: And how about for people who maybe don’t want to generate content themselves, but want to be a little more social media literate when it comes to what’s out there? Are there TikTok accounts or Twitter accounts or Instagram accounts that you think would be good for a clinician who’s taking care of kids to follow or to know about so they can kind of stay in the know with what their patients might be looking at online?

Dr. Rose Marie Leslie: Yeah. There are so many accounts out there. And one of the best things about social media is that it’s very searchable. And so you can always search a hashtag. #Adolescent health, #teen health, #Gen Z. You can search all of those things and see what’s out there and follow accounts that you think are providing good information and follow along, promote those through your own social media pages.

But the searchability of social media is wonderful. It’s hard for me to say just one account, especially across all of those, there are so many. But I think really using that search function to figure out what types of things people are seeing, that can be really helpful to know what’s out there.

Dr. Angela Kade Goepferd: If you’re on social media, you’ll see certain influencers will sometimes tag other people and then you can sort of click on that tag and see what they’re about and spend some time in the rabbit hole a little bit finding out more. So that’s really good advice. Dr. Leslie, anything else you’d like to leave our listeners with today before we end?

Dr. Rose Marie Leslie: Yeah, I think there is a really great place for people who are looking to get started or want to learn more about social media, specifically for people who work in healthcare. And it’s the Association for Healthcare Social Media. They have a lot of great resources for folks who have really any questions about social media at all and how to get started.

Dr. Angela Kade Goepferd: Let’s be sure to leave our listeners with how to find you. So how would they find you on TikTok and Twitter?

Dr. Rose Marie Leslie: So TikTok, I’m Dr. Leslie, D-R L-E-S-L-I-E. And then I have a it’s called link tree. You just click on it and it’s right on my TikTok account. And that will pull up all my other accounts. So Instagram, Twitter, that kind of thing. And you can just go through all of those.

Dr. Angela Kade Goepferd: Well, thanks again for joining me today. It’s been really interesting to hear about your journey and learn a little bit more about social media and using it as a tool for kids’ health. So thanks for coming in.

Dr. Rose Marie Leslie: Thank you so much.