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Izzy | Social media health advocate

Izzy is an endocrinology trainee, passionate sportswoman and social media wizard. Her goal is to be a sports endocrinologist, focusing on bone health, hormone deficiencies and exploring the impact of hormones related to recovery and performance.

Her Instagram account, @doctorizzyksmith, has over 17 thousand followers and counting. She is also a passionate advocate for mental health and co-hosts the Behind the Uniform podcast. Izzy focuses her content on debunking health myths, women’s health and sport. We hope you enjoy her story and there are some top tips in here for anyone considering their own foray into the world of social media!

Izzy’s story

Izzy’s decision to try something different began with a difficult year that will resonate with many of us. Uncertainty about career direction, a challenging rural placement, a breakup, revision for specialist exams and a stress fracture culminated in burnout and the need to take a break. Izzy decided it was time to take a year out of training to ‘locum, reassess and have a bit more life flexibility’. It was at this point she started her Instagram account.

Sport, being a huge part of her life, was always going to be a focus.

However, she had also become increasingly aware of the amount of misinformation, misunderstanding and myths surrounding nutrition and health being shared amongst the general population. Having spoken to non-medical friends and family, and being a social media user herself, she recognized poor communication of evidence-based information was a significant contributor to the problem. So, she decided to ‘provide correct information that people could actually understand’ – debunking as many myths and fads in the process as possible!

Experience of ‘going beyond’

Izzy has found the experience to be generally extremely positive, both personally and professionally. She explains, ‘running my Instagram page has definitely made me a better doctor, especially when analysing and communicating evidence. I also understand the patient journey so much better’. Condensing often complex scientific information into a digestible, character limited post has also made her a more confident writer.

The networking opportunities social media presents have been a huge plus. ‘I’ve met some amazing people. I have found that other doctors with a social media following tend to be really supportive of each other, I think because we are all aware that tall poppy syndrome exists and want to make sure we’re doing our part to support each other in pursuing non-traditional medical goals. Social media can be a very positive way to build a community if it’s used in the right way’.

She also reflects that writing more personal posts, particularly relating to mental health, can be a helpful way of articulating your thoughts. She explains, ‘it is a bit like journaling, and I have found it helps me to really think about how I am feeling and why’.

Izzy has decided not to monetise her Instagram account through sponsorships, as becoming an ‘influencer’ isn’t something that sits well with her. However, the exposure has led to other opportunities such as paid writing, public speaking events and podcast interviews.

Reactions from others

Izzy, like many doctors we have spoken to, has found the reactions of others to stepping outside of the box to be mixed.

Though she receives generally positive feedback, she has found that ‘social media is a place where people feel able to speak to others in a way they would never do in person and they sometimes forget there is a person behind the account!’. She credits her psychotherapy partner (we could probably all benefit from one of these!) for helping her to see that people’s judgement is usually a projection of their own issues. ‘It has personally been good at teaching me boundaries and that I can’t please everyone or be liked by everyone. I think these are really good lessons to apply to the rest of my life’.

Like many of us who have had fantastic development experiences outside of medicine, she has found it frustrating that most training programmes don’t take this into account when it comes to applications. Izzy explains that, for her endocrinology application, ‘even though I had not done any formal clinical teaching, I had been interviewed on multiple podcasts, helped a TV show with health content and done paid writing jobs. And none of that counted as education. That did reinforce to me that medical culture does still have a very fixed view of what you need to do to be good doctor’.

On the positive side though, she feels that culture is slowly changing and is committed to ‘encouraging more diversity and recognising people with other pursuits’ as she moves up the medical hierarchy.

Starting from scratch: Izzy’s top tips

1. Firstly, just start!

2. Do some research into what is already out there – there is a lot of content for example aimed at new mums. Trying to find a new niche or angle is a good idea.

3. It can feel vulnerable putting yourself out there and essentially becoming your own brand; as doctors is not something we are used to doing! So make sure make sure you are passionate about what you are promoting or talking about.

4. Be prepared to put in the time. You need to do your research and make sure you are putting out correct information, particularly if covering health-related content.

5. Try and focus on topical issues related to your focus area. Posts are more likely to be shared if they relate to something people are actively talking or worrying about. Covid was a classic example of that!

6. Be aware of your target demographic (or the demographic you attract). For example, I covered a lot of content on cancer and heart disease in the past but actually my audience are mainly female younger millennials so that’s not so relevant to them. I now focus more on content women in their 20s want to see.

7. Do: follow other doctors and network with them. Don’t: be pushy! I get people messaging me asking to share their posts; don’t do that!

8. Remember that people will talk to you on social media in a way they never would face-to-face.

9. Be patient, growth takes time.

10. Finally, remember comparisons are the thief of joy and accomplishment. When I started, I couldn’t imagine having a thousand followers. Now I have twelve and catch myself thinking ‘that’s not enough!

If you could go back to your medical school graduation day and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?

Don’t rush and don’t be scared of taking time off. I finished my Basic Physician Training exams in PGY4 and could have been a consultant by the time I was 30. But when you rush, you don’t have time to reflect on whether the journey you’re on is still relevant to you now, rather than your goals of five years ago. Think about what you enjoy doing rather than what you think you should do!