Doctors and Nurses Are Becoming Major Influencers on TikTok. While It Can Be Fun and Therapeutic, They Also Risk Treading in Unethical Waters.

Experts say it humanizes the profession, building a deeper connection between patients and physicians.

By Abby Adesanya

TikTok / @nurse.alexrn / @morgansandieg via Business Insider
TikToks shared on the job from nurses @nurse.alexrn and @morgansandiego.
  • Doctors and nurses are posting on TikTok as a creative outlet for their stressful jobs.
  • Experts say it humanizes the profession, building a deeper connection between patients and physicians.
  • But getting too personal can be risky. Healthcare workers have been fired for trivializing their jobs and their patients' needs.

This story originally appeared on Business Insider.

The doctor is in and they're posting about it on TikTok. While you might not expect your primary care physician to moonlight as a content creator, many of them already are and have the hefty follower counts to prove it. A community of medical professionals is thriving on the social platform – one scroll through the #DoctorTok or #NurseTok hashtags and you can follow a "day in the life" of an anesthesiologist, giggle at a funny pediatric office visit, or have a derm teach you something new about your skin.

More and more, healthcare workers are turning to content creation as a creative outlet for an otherwise grueling job. As an added benefit, this new level of transparency is making them more relatable to their patients. But can getting too personal compromise these client privileges — and our perception of physicians and nurses?

Alex Kim is a nurse who began sharing content on TikTok in January 2022 after seeing the platform's educational opportunities: "People don't really know what the hospital's like if they've never been there. I work behind the scenes, so I thought, 'I can show that.'" He posted a couple of videos to start, and one of them, "Day in a Life of a Pediatric Nurse," ended up tallying over a million views.

@nurse.alexrn I am the master at swaddling #nursesoftiktok #nursehumor #nurselife #nursingstudent #nursingschool son original - tswiftmusic

The positive response encouraged him to keep going. He shared additional glimpses into his work day, advice for aspiring nurses, and, inspired by popular comedian Dr. Glaucomflecken, funny skits from the patient's perspective. "Making these videos has really helped over the last couple of years," said Kim. "I feel like we all needed a little laughter to get through it."

Having over 148,000 followers can make some days at work feel a little more special than others. "I've met nursing students at the hospital who tell me that my videos got them through final exams," said Kim. He himself has been motivated by other creators, so he finds a particular joy in being able to return the favor. "I never thought I would be in a position where I could actually help people this way. It's an honor."

TikTok gives us the real-life med-drama that only TV shows have satiated before it

For Dr. Tiffany Moon, an anesthesiologist with 1.5 million followers who was a cast member on Bravo's "Real Housewives of Dallas," creating content on TikTok is about stepping outside the office. "From the start, I didn't want my content to focus on medicine," she shared. "When I came home from the hospital, the last thing I wanted to talk about was work." Having joined in the early days of the pandemic, TikTok was an escape where she posted dances with her 15-year-old daughter or talked about items in her closet that she loved.

However, viewers kept asking about her job. "People would comment 'What does an anesthesiologist do' and 'Can you talk more about work,' so I let my audience tell me what they want," said Moon. People were intrigued by her medical background and, even though she was letting them in on her personal life, they still wanted to learn more about her as a professional. She began incorporating content like re-enactments of patient scenarios and recaps of her day into her feed. "There's a certain draw to medical topics, so I get why they're so fascinated by it."

@tiffanymoonmd Can I get some love for my healthcare workers! #Anesthesia #HealthcareWorker #DoctorLife Contains STAYING ALIVE DJ Khalid - Rachel Santana

Moon and Kim's videos give us a peek into what really happens on the hospital floor — something we rarely get to see. And social media has bulldozed the fourth wall. When a person in scrubs pops up on the For You page, it's like seeing your teacher at the grocery store: surprisingly fascinating.

What we're currently experiencing is the collapse between service and social. Because medical professionals are greatly respected — and even put on a pedestal — they become less personable. "When doctors create content on social media, it can remove some of the hierarchical barriers we often see in medicine," said Nanette Elster, an associate professor of bioethics at Loyola University Chicago's medical school. This collapse makes the medical professionals and the work they do more approachable. "By leveling things out a bit, it can be easier for doctors and patients to have a freer discussion."

For the medical creator, the content serves as an extension of themselves, allowing the world to view them as a person outside of the operating room. "Social media can help people realize that the physicians caring for them are not just professionals, but also human beings," said Kayhan Parsi, a fellow professor of bioethics and health policy at Loyola University Chicago.

Moon agreed, and sees this as a positive shift in the dynamic: "Sharing on social media allows me to become closer to my patients. Instead of just being seen as someone in a lab coat, you're more relatable as a whole."

With its high stakes and real-life scenarios, the medical industry has always made for good storytelling. It's why shows like "Grey's Anatomy" and "Chicago Med" have had audiences hooked for years. "Medicine touches everyone's lives at some point, so there's an intrinsic attraction to healthcare media," said Parsi. "So much of healthcare is narrative and those narratives are very powerful." It makes sense that #NurseTok and #DoctorTok videos are as compelling: TikTok has become a new medium med-drama.

Because medical professionals carry the burden of other people's lives every day, TikTok becomes their outlet to let off steam. Sometimes it becomes a place for them to vent about the contentions and hardships of their industry.

This ranges from bullying among fellow nurses, to testy patients, to feeling burnt out. These are the experiences that clinicians typically keep private, but it can feel particularly freeing to let the world know about them.

"There aren't a lot of formal outlets for processing the more difficult parts of the profession," said Elster. "Social media can provide a quick release, and a way to receive support that may not exist in their own settings or institutions."

For some, these challenges are the most human part of the job. "Healthcare professionals have seen and been through a lot," said Morgan, who goes by @morgansandiego on TikTok. She first went viral after sharing how she passed the NCLEX, an exam all nursing school graduates must take in order to receive their licenses, in just 75 questions, the least amount possible. "For some of us, dark humor can be essential for getting through the hard parts." It also gains an incredible amount of views.

"The algorithm feeds off of drama," she continued, which means that leaning into stories that shine a light on the "dark side" can mean more followers, more views, and more visibility for a content creator.

When being too transparent about the job, and all its annoyances, can have serious consequences

But dark humor isn't always well-received. Last month, labor and delivery staff at Emory Hospital in Georgia may have shared too much when they started discussing "icks," or things they find strange or unsavory in their patients, publicly. Their TikTok went viral, but viewers found it insensitive and unprofessional to shame someone's personal preferences. After people raised their concerns to the hospital, the nurses were let go from their positions.

A nurse in North Carolina faced the same fate last summer when she was suspended for making "comedy skits" on TikTok about over-medicating patients and unplugging ventilators to charge her phone.

The viral videos sparked a larger conversation about the ethics of medical social media content. A key concern was whether these videos violated HIPAA, the medical privacy law enacted in 1996 that prohibits healthcare workers from disclosing personal information without a patient's consent. But experts say many of these viral TikToks don't identify anyone directly. Medical professionals are well-educated on HIPAA from the outset, said Morgan, and while there are no specific social media rules, the Protected Health Information clause prevents an individual's information from being transmitted in any form or medium, including electronic.

"Creators share patient case studies all the time, but you'll never hear specifics like what date the patient came in and where they were treated," said Morgan. "You would have a really hard time putting together who that patient was." The line between dark humor and potentially unlawful content certainly exists, but it's not as fine as one would think.

While the nurses who were fired did not do anything unlawful, they certainly toed the line of what's moral or decent. A healthcare professional may share a story that makes them relatable, but doing so on a public platform can come with consequences. "Medical institutions want to preserve their reputations in the community," said Parsi. "A hospital is going to be concerned about whether an employee is enhancing or undermining that."

While the nurses who were fired did not do anything unlawful, they certainly toed the line of what's moral or decent. A healthcare professional may share a story that makes them relatable, but doing so on a public platform can come with consequences. "Medical institutions want to preserve their reputations in the community," said Parsi. "A hospital is going to be concerned about whether an employee is enhancing or undermining that."

"At the end of the day, it goes beyond HIPAA. It has to do with integrity and image," Elster added.

There's an appetite for content from medical creators, as it performs extremely well. However, a full-time creator career doesn't appear to be the end goal for these healthcare workers. Moon said she's not interested in going full-time because it would cause the hobby to lose its charm.

"Once social media becomes your full-time job, it becomes a point of stress," she said. "For me, that would take the fun out of it."

Kim was a former film major so social media helps to fill a void, but it could never replace his true passion. "TikTok gave me my creative outlet back but I've never considered quitting my job for it. I love what I do – I'll always be a nurse," he said.

Caring for patients remains a priority for these creators, but so does self-fulfillment. Sharing their lives with the public can be dicey. But in order to be seen as a multi-faceted person outside of their jobs, it's a risk medical creators are willing to take.

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