Pharmacists See Alternatives in TikTok to Educate, Advocate

As the TikTok app has exploded in the past 2 years, influencers have found new ways to gain followers and expand their influence with the app’s short video format. These influencers include a growing number of pharmacists and pharmacy students who train young viewers and get involved in the profession.

According to data released in August 2020 and reported by CNBC, monthly users of the app have increased nearly 800% since January 2018.1 Over 100 million Americans are considered active monthly users and over 50 million are daily users.1 The pandemic played a key role in this growth, with users in the United States skyrocketing from nearly 39.9 million in October 2019 to nearly 92 million in June 2020

According to a paper released by the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine, TikTok was an important source of information, especially for younger viewers, during the pandemic. Investigators searched the app for the hashtag coronavirus and found 90 billion views, while the hashtags medicine and doctor received 1.4 billion and 6.7 billion views, respectively. Pharmacists on the app can also find niches to educate audiences, including the 3 pharmacists listed below.


Like many TikTok users, the pharmacist Savannah Malm, PharmD, IBCLC, downloaded the app out of boredom at the beginning of the pandemic. At the time, she was stuck in South Carolina while her husband was in Idaho, and her International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners exam was canceled.

“I downloaded the app to pass the time,” said Malm. “At that point there was no indication that I would be doing anything good.”

With 705.8 thousand followers around the world and 23.1 million likes, Malm (with the username @ rx0rcist) has one of the largest followers among pharmacists on TikTok. Malm’s interests include breastfeeding advice and COVID-19 vaccine advocacy, so she wants to educate viewers about both of these topics. In the interview, Malm said she was the first person in the country to hold both PharmD and IBCLC certification.

She is now posting a combination of educational content and so-called “accountable content,” calling out those who post misinformation in the app.

“I find people who do illegal things [or] Posting misinformation in very egregious ways, ”Malm said. “It’s a mix [those]. “

However, Malm’s popularity comes at a price. In addition to the millions of likes and positive comments, she and her family have been attacked and threatened online by anti-vaccine groups and others who disagree with their content. In 2020, she posted a video about pharmacists’ right to refuse to fill out a prescription and was attacked online by a chronic pain advocacy group.

“That was the first experience I had with people who didn’t want to hear the truth, so they responded with very violent attacks,” said Malm.

She also started calling out videos showing fake COVID-19 vaccine cards in the spring of 2021 and was quickly attacked for this too. One video received nearly 11 million views and her address was posted online. Malm then had to work with the Federal Bureau Investigation, despite saying there is no way of knowing who published her address and it is published to this day.

“I’ve learned that there are people who want to shirk responsibility so much that they react in such a way that they escalate to very violent, angry threats,” Malm said.

When asked why she continues to use the app despite these attacks, Malm said she had left social media for 3 weeks and was considering whether to return. Some viewers said she was putting her young daughter at risk by returning, but chose to use the platform to advocate for underrepresented groups and marginalized communities.

“As a white person in America with the privilege that I was born into, [and] Just being able to leave is a privilege that many marginalized communities do not have, ”Malm said. “I can’t hide because you can’t hide. I want to be a true ally of these communities that I am trying to serve and to amplify their voices. ”This chance to amplify marginalized voices is one of the most important places Malm sees the potential for TikTok as an educational tool. She added that it is also a great way for them to talk about topics that interested them and connect with like-minded people who are also keen to fight misinformation.


Peter Ginn, PharmD, has also used TikTok as a tool to advocate for the job – especially for vendor status. Ginn graduated from Campbell University and now works in the intensive care unit (ICU) of a large community teaching hospital in North Carolina.

Like Malm, Ginn said he downloaded TikTok for entertainment during the first few weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic. He quickly found some medical developers and decided to post on pharmacy because he said he didn’t see many pharmacists using the app. Now he has 3227 followers and 42 thousand likes under the username @pgpharmd. As the pandemic escalated, Ginn said he had started fighting misinformation.

“I’m really interested in trying to … produce factual COVID-19 information that is reasonably relatable [and] that combats some of the vaccine hesitation that is out there, ”said Ginn.

Ginn stated that right now almost every patient with COVID-19 he sees in intensive care is unvaccinated, so he hopes his contents will reach these people. He also said the app had potential beyond the pandemic and suggested that short instructional videos on commonly prescribed medications could be particularly effective.

“Everyone always [asks]’Do you have any questions for the pharmacist?’ And everyone always says ‘no’, ”said Ginn. Because of this, many patients may not know the basic information about their medication, such as whether it is acceptable to take a particular prescription at night or whether it should be taken with a meal.

Ginn has also used the app to network with other content creators, including Malm, who he said was an inspiration for advancing the COVID-19 vaccine issue. Although Ginn said he doesn’t present his responses to misinformation as often as Malm does, he will often respond to misinformed comments or create a video to explain the subject further.

As well as working on COVID-19 content, Ginn is also passionate about becoming a pharmacist. With such a large potential audience on the app and with so much new appreciation for the pharmacist’s role during the pandemic, Ginn sees an opportunity to achieve that goal.

“TikTok can be used to stand up for vendor status – both current pharmacy students and practicing pharmacists,” said Ginn. “Pharmacists are some of the most accessible health professionals [the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] does not recognize pharmacists as health care providers. When the dust of the COVID-19 pandemic has settled in the future, I imagine that I will work to ensure that pharmacists are recognized as health care providers. “


Unlike Malm and Ginn, who downloaded TikTok in early 2020, Sagar Parekh, PharmD, said he started using the app in his third year of pharmacy school in late 2019. He initially started posting humorous videos based on his experience in retail pharmacy, but also videos about his South Asian heritage and what it was like to grow up as an Indian.

“I just started making these funny clips that asked weird questions like, ‘Hey, do you know where the bathroom is?’ while you are a pharmacist, ”said Parekh.

In addition to his first two topics, Parekh said he is now creating content about working in a corporate environment. Since graduating with a PhD in Pharmacy from Rutgers University’s Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy last spring, Parekh has said he works in the pharmaceutical industry and is participating in an oncology branding marketing scholarship through the Rutgers Institute for Pharmaceutical Industry Fellowships.

He has also uploaded some videos on the importance of COVID-19 vaccines, although he said this is not a focus of his platform. Parekh said he likes creating fun content and entertaining viewers as there are many professionals using the app as an educational tool.

“I see my platform as a place where people can make humorous jokes, for something that is lighthearted, something they can relate to, and just give them a good laugh,” said Parekh.

He added that he sees limitless potential for the app both as an educational tool and as a networking opportunity.

“There’s no roof to go,” he said. “It can be a huge teaching resource … with some of the quick facts you can provide, such as: B. what different drugs do. It can be a cool way for pharmacy students to get involved and stay up to date while using a social platform that is really fun. “


  1. Sherman, A. TikTok reveals detailed user numbers for the first time. CNBC. Updated August 24, 2020. Accessed September 13, 2021. html
  2. Comp G, Dyer S, Gottlieb M. Is TikTok the next social media frontier for medicine? AEM Educ train. 2020; 5 (3) 10.1002 / aet2.10532. doi: 10.1002 / aet2.10532
  3. Cortney tried. Tick ​​tock. August 14, 2021. Accessed September 13, 2021.

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