December 16, 2019 10:53 am David Mitchell – Rose Marie Leslie, M.D., worked as a peer health educator in high school and college, and later worked in health education for an HIV program at a federally qualified health center. Now, as a family medicine resident, she's found a way to expand her reach to thousands of people far beyond her clinic.
"The majority of teens and young adults are getting their information from social media," Leslie said. "People want more health information -- credible information -- and they want to engage."
Leslie is filling that need on TikTok. She has more than 360,000 followers on that social media platform even though she's been using it for less than a year. Her short, daily videos offer health tips aimed at young people.
"I started it really just for fun," said Leslie, a second-year resident at the University of Minnesota North Memorial Family Medicine Residency Program in Minneapolis. "I had worked in health education, and it came naturally to me. I try to make posts informative and funny."
Take, for example,a recent post inspired by an American Family Physician article about hypothermia and frostbite. Leslie's commentary came complete with costume changes and an exaggerated Minnesota accent.
Leslie also provides links to her sources in the comments so her followers can verify the information she provides.
She already was building a significant following before she started posting videos about the harms associated with vaping. That caught the attention of Rolling Stone, which published a feature story about Leslie in September. More than a dozen other interviews followed, including spots on CNBC and Good Morning America. Her TikTok following nearly doubled in less than three months. It didn't hurt that Medscape named her one of the top 20 physicians to follow on social media.
"There have been a lot of different messages about vaping, and it can be confusing for people," she said. "That's an issue. Teens and young adults are looking to social media and the internet for news, so it's important to make sure people have evidence-based information."
Unfortunately, she said, too many young people are curious about vaping; they're attracted by the numerous flavors available and think the products don't pose a health risk. NIH reported in December 2018 that more than one-third of high school seniors reported vaping in the previous year.
"They don't think vaping is bad for you," she said. "It is harmful, especially in people who didn't smoke cigarettes before vaping. I'm giving health information that's easy to understand in a space where kids and young adults are."
Leslie said she's treated patients with health complications from vaping at her hospital.
"People are getting critically ill from this," she said.
In addition to providing health tips, Leslie posts information about and answers questions from young people interested in health careers.
"They have a lot of questions about getting into med school and how hard it is," said Leslie, who hopes to practice full-scope family medicine in a rural setting after residency. "I want to talk to them about what it's like to be in the medical field, being a physician and what the process is like."