Meet the ob-gyn using TikTok to teach millions of teens about safe sex: ‘We can really make a big difference’
The latest “it” social media platform, TikTok, might appear to be overrun by teenagers creating viral short-form videos and dancing to trending songs. But there’s one woman working to break the mold of what the platform is all about by using it to educate young people about women’s health.
Staci Tanouye, MD, is a board-certified ob-gyn, who first opened the video-sharing app back in November after seeing a few of her colleagues utilizing it to advertise their practices and even debunk medical myths. However, she never expected that she’d get so popular after giving it a go herself.
“TikTok was not at all intuitive,” Tanouye tells Yahoo Lifestyle about first exploring the app. “I actually watched some YouTube videos on TikTok and the trends and that sort of thing because I didn't understand it. And then just over time really just came to realize how that all works and how these teenagers are thinking.”
The mother-of-two explains that she felt “super old and not cool at all” while doing the research — as she had when she first started using Instagram to boost her Florida-based clientele. The biggest challenge, however, was adapting the information that she wanted to share so that it would make sense for TikTok and capture the attention of young women.
“I kind of just tried to be silly enough and make a fool enough of myself to get their attention with their trends on their level,” Tanouye explains, “but then throw out the message and the medical information that I wanted them to get that I think is not out there enough.”
Her first video, posted Nov. 11, proved to be just that, as she introduced herself to the platform while doing a dance to Kaash Paige’s “Love Songs.”
“Hey tik tok,” the writing on her video reads. “Even if you’re dancing on tik tok...You can still be a DOCTOR.”
Tanouye went on to create content where she did popular dances and utilized hashtags to increase her discoverability. She also introduced different topics with each video, including birth control, STDs and what it takes to become a gynecologist. But it was a video about safe sex and herpes that she posted on Monday that ultimately took off and aggregated 10.5 million views.
“I really realized that this was really impactful,” Tanouye says of the viral attention.
Beyond the likes and views that would put her onto the feeds of teens everywhere, Tanouye was most impressed by the conversation taking place in the video’s comment section. She even hosted a livestream on TikTok days later where nearly 2,000 users tuned in to ask questions and learn more about STDs and herpes.
“That's what they want. That's what they need,” she says of young TikTok users. “We have to go to where our population is and what they are watching and doing if we want to get our message across and connect with the world.”
The ob-gyn describes the young women in their late teens and early twenties using the app as her “key population,” explaining that they’re the ones needing this information yet not necessarily getting it on social media. In fact, Tanouye notes that these young people more exposed to “dangerous public health messages,” which she says makes her presence on TikTok that much more important.
“I now see the potential of how big it is and how much I can get my message out just for general education. It's no longer for recruiting patients to my practice. This is bigger than that,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “They are very powerful platforms that we can really make a big difference on.”
Tanouye has posted two videos since her big break and continues to aggregate tens of thousands of views on each. As for the future of her social media presence, she’s seeing where the journey takes her.
“I need to just stick to my goal missions of women's health and advocating for women's health and getting good evidence-based medicine facts out there,” she explains. “As long as I think I can stick to that and try to adapt my message to these platforms, I'm just going to ride along and see where it goes.”
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