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|