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Doctors and nurses have been active on TikTok for nearly as long as the app has been around. Users will often scroll across a snappy video of a dermatologist giving skin care tips, or your friendly neighborhood OB/GYN warning against the newest fad that is actually bad for you. Healthcare professionals starred in glow-up videos, changing from white coats to club clothes with the ease of a quick edit, or they showed off their moves to the platform’s latest dance craze. But with the COVID-19 outbreak, the gloves are off — and so are the masks and extra personal protective equipment.
Over the past few months, doctors and nurses have taken on new roles on social media. On TikTok, some have shifted their focus from looking their best to sharing their experiences with the pandemic. Others have pivoted to taking funny videos just as seriously as their day jobs, puncturing the endless scroll of tragic news with bursts of joy. Their videos have become more ubiquitous on TikTok’s “For You” page, as users are responding to them in greater numbers and searching out their advice. As fun as quarantine memes and at-home pranks are, there’s a whole generation (or two, or three) of people who just want to know what the hell is going on.
TikTok’s content parameters challenge creators to break down and share their messages in the shortest amount of time, with favorites and shares in store for those who approach this creatively. Viewers need information, and they want it delivered quicker than a news segment or an article. We see creators breaking down the day’s news, like with updates on daily infection counts and death tolls, or how race affects the treatment patients receive. Others have demonstrated what it’s like to suit up to treat a patient with COVID-19, what the virus does to someone’s lungs, or how much more infectious it is than the flu (all set to catchy music). Another subset of TikToks function as tutorials, showing how to keep your glasses from fogging up while wearing a face mask, or how to prevent breakouts and other skin problems from wearing a mask for too long.
TikTok has also become a safe space for doctors and nurses to sound off on their frustrations over the stress of being essential personnel, people defying stay-at-home orders, and dealing with misinformation. There’s even a minor meme of using a medical glove to flip the bird to the virus. But the most poignant are the confessional — sometimes still playful — attempts to address inequalities and shortages in the system. Some nurses have railed against the lack of hazard pay, or the stringent rules put in place by hospital management when there aren’t enough masks for staff. A lack of PPE is one of the most common complaints at all levels. Some have turned to the familiar car seat testimonial style to talk about these shortages, humanizing their struggle and amplifying it to thousands, if not millions, of curious viewers.
Meanwhile, other doctors and nurses have dedicated their accounts to keeping the mood light. They show off a rarely seen side of hospital staff, dancing with their co-workers, hosting a dance tutorial in scrubs, or just having a bit of fun before heading back to the dire frontlines. They’re recreating scenes from movies, or making their own mini-movies in which they get epic heroic entrances. Such escapist vignettes remove the intimidation of the hospital setting. It’s not all death and tragedy, and the workers aren’t faceless, but friends and colleagues who care for each other as much as their patients. They demonstrate solidarity among the participants as much as they entertain an invisible audience.
Many of us are seeing much more of doctors and nurses than usual, whether they’re in the news, on their way to work, or elsewhere. Social media is a way for them to reach people before they become their patients. While many are trying to stem the spread of COVID-19, sometimes these videos are just as healing for their makers. “I made this TikTok account as a way to cope,” one tired nurse told her followers in a recent video. “Instead of crying every day, I make TikToks.” Doctors and nurses are documenting this unbelievable time in history, capturing the latest trending dance steps during a break, what it’s like to be a new mom working at a hospital, or sending messages of support to other healthcare providers. These videos express everything from heartbreak to frustration to sheer ridiculousness. Watch enough of them, and you might learn a thing or two about what’s going on beyond your “For You” feed.
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