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Healthcare TikTok: Dopamine, Clout, and Risks

Alexandra Aglieco, APRN, FNP-BC asks: has TikTok single-handedly dismantled healthcare professional etiquette?

March 6, 2024

Are there any other healthcare professionals out there who are stunned by the way TikTok has completely flipped acceptable conduct and etiquette?

Social media has always impacted healthcare education and professional behavior, however the birth of TikTok has sent a shockwave more profound than any other platform, and not necessarily a good one.

I was in my Bachelor’s of Science of Nursing program in the mid 2010’s, before TikTok existed. Of course, we had several other forms of social media though, such as Facebook and Instagram.

As nursing students, we were repeatedly told, quite simply, “Don’t do it.” While social media conduct was not an extensive focus of the nursing curriculum, still, every professor and clinical instructor emphasized the same sentiment. We were conditioned to go into the healthcare field with an understanding that literally nothing about your practice goes on social media, and we followed that dutifully.

 

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Since the implementation of TikTok, a new set of social norms has emerged that only exists within the app.

The purpose is no longer sharing photos of the new baby or the tropical vacation so that Grandma in another state can see.

Now, it’s the goal of the user to put the most shocking and attention-grabbing footage out there, in order to try and get the most views possible.

The difference is that TikTok shows the user, and everyone else, the view count.

This is something previous social media platforms did not do.

 

Are there any other healthcare professionals out there who are stunned by the way TikTok has completely flipped acceptable conduct and etiquette? Click To Tweet

 

Such plays on innate human competitive nature, and fosters a culture of publishing content that will get the most eyes on it, often at any cost.

This has created a new society of people putting anything and everything on TikTok, no matter how shameful or embarrassing it may be in the real world; doing or admitting things that one wouldn’t utter out loud in public, but only in the privacy of their own home while, of course, filming it for TikTok. The return is a hit of dopamine achieved by thousands, or even millions of views, giving the user the illusion of fame and notoriety.

That’s the thing, though – it’s an illusion.

In real life, they are still just a regular person, but in the app, they are a version of a virtual reality celebrity.

As we know, dopamine is addictive, and such is this process of posting videos and getting high view counts.

 

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This becomes a major issue when it transcends into the minds of healthcare professionals. Several of us are on TikTok, whether that be with the goal of public education, information sharing, or simply “clout.”

In fact, “NurseTok” is a specific niche of videos on the app, which provides incentive for nurses to create tailored content, as it’s an opportunity to reach an already interested audience. The problem occurs with the combination of healthcare content and the set of antithetical virtual social norms. As healthcare professionals, we see things that would stop most people in their tracks on a daily basis, and we become blind to it.

Posting these sorts of things online, while likely attracting the desired views, creates a major risk for HIPAA violations, patient safety risks, and even humiliation of patients to captivate the viewers. Something that would be shielded from the public eye in the real world would be displayed proudly on TikTok, and gain thousands and thousands of views.

As healthcare professionals utilizing the app, we walk a fine line of creating interesting content while upholding our professional values. I mean, why did we enter this field anyway? Is it because we want to help people, or is it because we knew we could get endless views on “NurseTok”?

 

As we know, dopamine is addictive, and such is this process of posting videos and getting high view counts.

 

As we educate a new generation of the healthcare workforce, we need to highlight the risks of putting any information relating to practice on social media, and bring attention back to patient privacy, advocacy, and dignity.

More public awareness is needed of the social impacts of TikTok in general, but especially as it pertains to healthcare professionals. At the core of this issue is the patients, and our responsibility to be their advocates.

To young healthcare students reading this, remember the distinct delineation between who you are on TikTok and who you want to be in the field. And to healthcare educators, consider implementing content relating to this current issue into your curriculum. Maybe then, we can hear less stories of nurses and doctors being fired after their boss found their TikTok, and most importantly, less stories of patients being exploited for TikTok views.

All opinions published on SomeDocs-Mag are the author’s and do not reflect the official position of SoMeDocs, its staff, editors. SoMeDocs is a magazine built with the safety of free expression and diverse perspectives in mind. For more information, or to submit your own opinion, please see our submission guidelines or email opmed@doximity.com. Do you have a compelling personal story you’d like to see published on SoMeDocs? Find out what we’re looking for here and submit your writing, or send us a pitch.

All opinions published on SomeDocs-Mag are the author’s and do not reflect the official position of SoMeDocs, its staff, editors. SoMeDocs is a magazine built with the safety of free expression and diverse perspectives in mind. Do you have a compelling personal story you’d like to see published on SoMeDocs? Submit your own article now here.

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