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Lessons learned on Instagram

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In 2019, an article in the Journal of the American College of Clinical Pharmacy encouraged pharmacists to engage professionally on social media, although they generally avoided it for these purposes.

In 2019, an article in the Journal of the American College of Clinical Pharmacy encouraged pharmacists to engage professionally on social media, although they generally avoided it for these purposes.1 The article piqued my curiosity because it appeared a year after I created my pharmacy podcast, OVERxDOSE (pronounced “overdose”), and right after I launched a corresponding Instagram account (@overxdose).2

Today, most pharmacy students still use LinkedIn, Facebook, and YouTube for professional development and networking.3 However, there are many benefits, as well as risks, that they should consider when considering Instagram for business.

Good

1. Networking

One of the main advantages offered by Instagram is more networking opportunities. Through my account, I was able to connect with pharmacists across the country during the COVID-19 pandemic without ever meeting them in person at a conference or other event.

When I first ventured onto the platform, I followed popular accounts like @rx.radio and @corconsultrx. By messaging the owners directly and asking for podcasting advice, I formed strong mentoring bonds, and their advice increased my success on social media.

Plus, creating my own content and interacting with others frequently meant that Instagram’s search algorithm started doing the networking for me. As new accounts appear, the platform continues to suggest new accounts for me to follow, so that I can effortlessly expand my professional network.

2. Complete the classroom Theto learn

A 2015 meta-analysis found that Facebook was the only social media site used as an educational tool in pharmacy.4 However, in 2021 it was common for other medical professionals to use Instagram to augment courses, with quiz-like practice questions being the most popular content among followers.5.6

I noticed a similar trend when I posted multiple-choice questions to my account (see figure) to improve my and my classmates’ understanding of the material and prepare for the exam.

3. Stay up to date on technology

With online news consumption in the United States at an all-time high, more and more people prefer platforms they can access on mobile devices over those on desktop computers. When browsing the news on their phone, people are more likely to switch to social media: they spend around 89% of their on-device time on social media, making it the fastest way to reach a targeted audience.7-9

By following accounts on Instagram, I learned about emerging technologies and innovations that were revolutionizing pharmacy practice, such as advances in telehealth, digitization of medications, development of the automatic pill dispenser, and the latest drug information.

4. Pursue creativity and professional identity

Social media also provides professionals with an outlet for creative expression and identity building.ten Pharmacy students are expected to develop their professional persona as they progress through school and beyond. Instagram, which allows me to simultaneously pursue my interest in storytelling, humor and pharmacy, has been my creative outlet. Through this, I can not only connect with others who share my passions, but I can also be an example of professional development for future pharmacists who are still working to find their own voice.

The bad

1. Lack of professionalism

Unprofessional assignments have had many negative consequences, ranging from a warning to expulsion from school and even dismissal.11 Studies have shown that medical students tend to post more lay content and watch lay content from their peers more frequently than faculty members.12.13

My first posts were pharmacy memes that some peers considered unprofessional. But by being open to constructive criticism from fellow students and the dean’s office, I quickly learned from my mistakes and adapted my posts to reflect the image and message I wanted to convey. A great risk of social media is advertising, but it is also its great strength.

Student pharmacists need to be aware of the risks and balance them by seizing the opportunity Instagram provides to be a voice for the profession and present themselves as they want employers and patients to see them. In my opinion, the answer is not to be silent but to be determined on social networks.

2. Entertainment

The academic performance of pharmacy students has been observed to correlate with how well they manage their time, and students have reported that their phones can be a distraction that negatively affects their academic performance.12.13 Often a short break from my studies to create content or scroll through my feed can turn into hours away from books, making me less prepared for exams. Pharmacy students must strike a balance, but this is true for all creative outlets.

3. Depressive symptoms

Following strangers on social media can also lead to comparisons which can negatively impact the well-being of the follower.14 Research has shown that increased Instagram use is associated with more depressive symptoms. By following successful pharmacists, I myself have found that my well-being suffers when I compare their considerable accomplishments to mine. As I got to know the other pharmacists better and they no longer felt like outsiders, I noticed that my mental health improved.

Instagram Beads

1. Follow others for ideas

Pharmacy students who want to create an Instagram account don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Seeing those featured on popular reposts like @pharmacistsofig, @talktoyourpharmacist, @pharmacisthub, and @pharmacistsincharge is a great place to start (see chart).

2. Pause before posting

Before posting, students should read their school’s social media and professionalism policies and consider how their content might be perceived by an employer. If there is any risk that the content violates a policy or could be considered unprofessional, it is best not to publish it. On social networks, nothing is really anonymous and people remain responsible for their posts.

3. Use templates

Using free software like Canva, students can create or choose templates and schedule their posts. Using the same template consistently and scheduling posts can save time and create a more professional account.

As new social media platforms are created and more research is conducted on the subject, I hope that schools of pharmacy, pharmacists and pharmacy students will begin to see Instagram as a valuable tool that expands opportunities within the pharmaceutical profession.

David Bump is a PharmD Candidate 2022 at Virginia Commonwealth University.