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The pharmacist teaching her 11k Instagram followers about man flu

Community pharmacists can join a healthcare nerd tribe on social media to promote the profession, but they must remain ethical, says Laura Dowling aka the Fabulous Pharmacist

I have always been passionate about health and lifestyle wellness. I get asked by friends, family and patients the same questions about medicines, health and illnesses every day.

Pharmacists are the most easily accessible healthcare professional. So, a few years ago I decided to make my knowledge even more accessible and go online under the alias Fabulous Pharmacist. It was an attempt to inspire people to lead balanced, healthier lives in a consistent and achievable way that avoided short-term fads. There is so much misinformation on the internet and social media that I thought I could bring some sense to the nonsense.

In the beginning I focused my posts on Facebook and Instagram on information about health and wellbeing. I was hesitant to write a lot about medicines as I did not want to seem like a drug marketer. I limited my posts to discussing minor ailments like thrush and cold sores. I would usually include a picture and some written information about the illness and how to prevent and cure it. I tried to make my posts concise, relatable and engaging, as very few people enjoy reading through long posts full of clinical data.

The number of people following my pages grew slowly but steadily. I was probably one of the only pharmacists in Ireland doing this at the time. As a result, some companies started to get in touch with me to do healthcare professional consultancy work for them in the form of talks and written articles. I now have 11,600 followers on Instagram and 4,500 followers on Facebook. In November 2018, I posted a video on my Instagram story on man flu. This was when that account really began to take off.

Video made it so much easier to discuss a topic and engage with my followers. It was certainly more time-efficient than writing and refining a lengthy blog post. Nowadays, in my daily posts I discuss medicines, illness, natural therapies, healthy food, vitamins and exercise, in between performing advanced yoga poses and baking sourdough bread with my three sons. I also document the fun and laughs that I have with my Lloydspharmacy team on a daily basis.

I am always true to my code of ethics as a pharmacist. I only give general scientific and clinically backed healthcare advice. This is where pharmacists can differentiate themselves from other social media influencers who are quick to push out ‘fake news’ about healthcare, drugs and natural remedies. A few weeks ago, an influencer from the UK with over 200,000 followers posted about a link between paracetamol for babies and autism.

It is disgraceful that bloggers with large followings can get away with preying on vulnerable people with absolutely no consequences. However, I have met many wonderful pharmacists, doctors, nurses and scientists through social media. We are gradually building our own nerd tribe. I have learned so much from these people. As you know, medicine is always evolving. If I don’t know the answer to a follower’s query, I always know someone who will.

Many of my followers are also pharmacy staff. I have had messages from pharmacists telling me that I have inspired some CPD, and pharmacy students and technicians say that my stories help them with their modules in pharmacy practice. Some followers told me that my posts encouraged them to use their own pharmacist for healthcare queries, and that they did not realise pharmacists knew so much about illness and health. We know that as a profession we are underutilised for our skillsets, so social media may help us to bridge that gap.

I genuinely want to empower people to look after their own health. My Fabulous Pharmacist alias was never meant to replace a person attending their own pharmacist or GP, but knowledge is power. If the public understand more about their medicines and health, then that can only be a good thing for them and the healthcare system as a whole.

I have worked in the same pharmacy as a supervising pharmacist manager for 14 years. Many of my online followers are local people, patients and customers. My social media pages have allowed me to engage with them in ways that I may otherwise not have been able to, even if it is just to tell them to come in and see me about that rash.

There is enough room online for everyone. I think that social media can really help pharmacists build their profile and business in a positive way. I look forward to seeing more pharmacists carve out a little bit of social media space for themselves.

Laura Dowling is a Lloydspharmacy branch manager in Dublin


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