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


Who 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.

Kevin 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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