Why Priscilla Chan may become the country’s most influential doctor

Why Priscilla Chan may become the countrys most influential doctorWho has the potential to be the most influential physician of our generation?

It’s Priscilla Chan, who not only recently graduated from medical school, but also married Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

When I brought this up on Twitter, someone responded that it was “disappointing at the same time. I’m certain her own merits and studies would have made waves alone.”

But her influence over a 900 million user social media platform simply cannot be ignored. Already, she has been cited as the primary reason behind Facebook’s recent interest in organ donation:

[Zuckerberg] revealed some small details of his personal life, lighting up when talking about the dinnertime chats he had with girlfriend Priscilla Chan that helped lead to the donation initiative.

“She’s in medical school now,” Zuckerberg said of Chan. “She’s going to be a pediatrician, so our dinner conversations are often about Facebook and the kids that she’s meeting.”

Chan told him stories about patients she meets “getting sicker as they don’t have the organ that they need.”

But there were other stories too, of children who ultimately received transplants. Stories, Zuckerberg called, “unbelievable.”

From Chan he learned of one boy in need of a heart transplant. His skin had turned blue from lack of oxygen, but within weeks of receiving a transplant he was out again playing sports.

“How can that not make you happy,” he asked.

According to David Fleming, chief executive of Donate Life America, in a statement, the response “dwarfed any past organ donation initiative.”

Consider that there are a substantial number of patient communities on Facebook, and many of its participants are consuming health information. Like most of the web, bad medical information permeates Facebook.

A study from the Journal of General Internal Medicine, for instance, looked at the largest diabetes communities on Facebook, and found that 27% of posts featured some type of promotional activity, generally presented as testimonials advertising non-FDA approved, “natural” products. That can be dangerous when you consider how sick some diabetics are, as well as the multitude of medications many take.

As an aspiring pediatrician, Priscilla Chan has the potential to influence Facebook towards public health causes, and fight the online presence of the influential, yet scientifically-bereft, anti-vaccine movement.

Linda Pourmassina commented on the potential of this #hcsm marriage, urging us not to get ahead of ourselves:

What we hope from the newly married, newly minted Dr. Priscilla Chan and her generation of doctors should be no more than what we hope to aspire as physicians currently practicing in the medical field. Hard as it may be, we need to keep our eyes and minds open and complacency out. Admittedly, I, too, am curious what further contributions Chan will make to the fields of social media and medicine. But I don’t want to pressure her just yet. As I remember it, internship is hard enough.

True enough.  It’s still really early.

But, fair or not, there is significant pressure on the newly-minted Dr. Chan, with an entire generation of physicians watching her.  With her medical training, and her influence on Facebook, she’s in the unique position to impact the nation’s public health for years to come.

Why Priscilla Chan may become the countrys most influential doctorKevin Pho is co-author of Establishing, Managing, and Protecting Your Online Reputation: A Social Media Guide for Physicians and Medical Practices. He is founder and editor of KevinMD.com, also on FacebookTwitterGoogle+, and LinkedIn.

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  • SophieZhou

    How cool is it to be Priscilla Chan and to have the opportunity to have such a large impact? Of course, she’s also bearing SO much expectation. Do you think that her internship years/her training will be different because she’s Mark Zuckerberg’s wife? Will her fame be helpful now, when she’s still just learning? 

    - alittlehappi.blogspot.com

  • http://makethislookawesome.blogspot.in/ PamC

    Be careful in creating a cult of personality. You may not always agree with what she says. 

    As you say, she’s in a uniquely powerful position… if she chooses to use it. But what happens if you don’t agree? What if the power is used for the spread of propaganda, myth, and continuing stigma?For one, the anti-vaccine crowd isn’t entirely “scientifically bereft,” if you’re discussing the anthrax vaccine. There was a court order blocking its use on soldiers, because the government knew it was an experimental vaccine with *no* *proven* efficacy. Second, there’s scientific evidence for the efficacy of marijuana as a medication, but because of the War on Drugs, what sort of stance do you think she’ll be forced to take? Lastly, we know from organ donor studies done in Europe, that getting people to opt-in at high rates is as easy as changing the wording on the donation card (from Dan Ariely asks, “Are we in control of our own decisions?” – TED) No special medical influence needed.Mrs. Zuckerberg is easily in a position to do as much harm as good. We would do well to curb our enthusiasm.

  • http://pulsus.wordpress.com/ Linda Pourmassina, MD

    Great post, Kevin

    The particular quote in my blog, which could be differently worded in retrospect as I see it in this context, was referencing a hope that all of us – current physicians and medical trainees – would think big and outside of the box about the impact we can make with the resources we have. We should expect just as much out of our own abilities as we do from her. We may not be able to deliver on quite the scale she can, but I think we – as busy physicians – underestimate our ability to innovate and influence. I am quite sure, in fact, that Dr. Chan will be influential in the coming years.

  • http://mdwebpro.com/ Erick Kinuthia

    Nice document.It is a real example of how a doctor can use a social media such as facebook to reach many patients who need  his or her services.

    Erick Kinuthia
    Team MDwebpro

  • doc99

    If Dr. Chan takes on the neoMcCarthyites of anti-vaccination, I suggest she bring her flame retardant hazmat suit to the party.

  • StephenModesto

    Thank you for net-publishing your article. Your views reflect well the parallel perception of my own as I saw the CNN report concerning the marriage. Dr.Chan is indeed in a very significant and pivotal position. I had a re-assuring sense of confidence concerning the future of Facebook as a global catalyst when I realized that Dr. Chan is to be/become the `better’ half of the Zuckerberg personification.

  • http://twitter.com/KarenSibertMD Karen Sibert MD

    Reserving judgment until she actually completes an internship and residency and starts to take care of patients.  I suspect there will be significant temptation not to bother.  How many of us would really have completed residency if we didn’t have to earn a living?

  • http://www.7POH.com/ Natasha Deonarain, MD, MBA

    Please. I think we need to stop holding our breath as doctors and stop looking to someone who hasn’t even qualified as a specialist let alone arrived at the real-world experience it takes to mature in medicine. That’s like a billionaire putting a high-school student in charge of his finances. We need to take a good look at ourselves and how we’ve got ourselves into this mess. It’s the way we think that’s the problem. Einstein said, “we cannot solve our problems using the same thinking we used when we created them,” so why are we all thinking the same things over and over again, looking at someone who’s in the media just because she’s married to someone who knows how to make money? Doctor’s are the slowest group to change – both in their practice habits, their business skills and as leaders in reform. We’re famous for waiting until someone else like “Priscilla Chan” forges the way. The problem is, we don’t have 15 years or more to wait. We’re falling apart now. So who’s brave enough to really think out of the box and stand up to a healthcare system that’s not only killing patients physically, emotionally and financially, but killing the spirit of its doctors and a nation’s economic future to boot? Teddy Roosevelt said, “no nation could be strong if it’s people are sick and poor.” Where are we headed???

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