This week on the podcast, James sits down with Amanda D’Almeida and Daniel Villavecer, medical students with an interest in functional medicine who have more than 1.5 million followers on the social media platform TikTok. Their page, Medicine Explained, covers key topics such as sleep, immunity, and stress, explained in fun, digestible and educational videos. When thinking about marketing your practice on social media, TikTok is a great option—content on TikTok is not as saturated as it is on Instagram, and TikTok is quickly becoming the best way to inform the next generation. This is the generation who will either end up as our patients or go on to be functional medicine doctors. 2021 is our Year of Reinvention, and this episode shows us that rethinking the way we reach patients and market our expertise can pay huge dividends in transforming medicine.

Highlights include:

  • How to niche topics and ideas to create your TikTok page
  • The pros and cons of marketing on TikTok versus Instagram
  • Why the pharmacy-first approach to care is dissolving in medical student mindsets, and where functional medicine can step in
  • And so much more!

Resources mentioned in this episode:

Practice Marketing Series, Episode 10: Tiktok For Health Professionals

James Maskell: Welcome to the Evolution of Medicine podcast, the place health professionals come to hear from innovators and agitators leading the charge. We cover the latest clinical breakthroughs in health technology, as well as practical tools to help you transform your practice and the health of your community. This podcast is brought to you by the Lifestyle Matrix Resource Center, who provide a range of options to help you deliver successful, effective, functional, and integrative medicine. To find out more and to get started, go to goevomed.com/lmrc. That’s goevomed.com/lmrc.

Hello and welcome to the last podcast in our marketing series. In this session, we’re going to look to the future with two medical students who have built a multi-million supporter network on TikTok and have hundreds of millions use for their hashtag, #MedicineExplained. It includes no silly dancing. They don’t even show their face, but yet they’d been able to get quality functional medicine information out to millions of people on TikTok. So much inspiring stuff in this half an hour, enjoy.

James Maskell: So a warm welcome to the podcast, Amanda D’Almeida and Dan Villavecer, welcome to the Evolution of Medicine Podcast. Great to have you on.

Daniel Villavecer: Thanks for having us.

Amanda D’Almeida: Happy to be here, James.

James Maskell: So throughout this series over the year, we’ve be talking about the marketing of medicine and we’ve gone through websites and lead magnets and how to build your practitioner list, how to market yourself. We’ve heard it from all kinds of practitioners. You are a in a sort of a different situation in that. You’re still in medical school, fourth-year medical students, and have built a ridiculously big TikTok and then now have a podcast and other things. And so you’re doing this while you’re going through medical school. Let’s just start with a story. I’d love to know kind of how you got started and, how this escalated so quickly.

Daniel Villavecer: Thanks for that intro, James. But yeah, pretty much we were in our second year of medical school and we just understood the power of social media and getting our voices out. And we spend all of our days in the clinic and we get to spend two or three minutes with a patient we don’t actually get to explain what their disease process is, what we’re thinking from the medical side. And so we just wanted a way to speak to the public and have more time to do so.

And actually I told Amanda, I’m like, “Hey, we’re going to be graduating in about two or three years and if we can start social media now and have five or 10,000 followers, it’ll give us a head start to once we start practicing and really need to start promoting ourselves.” And so we figured we’d get started. And the change, I had the ideas and Amanda is the one who really gets the ball rolling with things and she’s the steam engine. And so I’ll kind of hand it off to her and let her tell you why we actually decided to make that first post. And it was something that happened in her public health class.

Amanda D’Almeida: Yeah. So again, thanks for having us. We’re happy to be talking to you today, James. And what really got the ball rolling was I am concurrently getting my master’s in public health, along with my MD. And in one of the classes we were talking about how people in Louisiana were still having their kids die of SIDS or sudden infant death syndrome because of lack of information, essentially. And it’s a very, very preventable cause of death. And I came home and I was just frustrated. And I was lie, “There is a lack of information. A lot of crux of the issue in public health can stem from lack of information.” And I was telling Daniel that I don’t want to wait to graduate in order to make a positive impact on the world. So I wanted to get my voice out there and share information. And Daniel keeps his eye to the ground on tech happenings, social media, and he saw TikTok as this up and coming platform that isn’t as saturated as Instagram and he has a great analogy for it.

Daniel Villavecer: Yeah. I just think it’s like having a beachfront property that nobody’s moved into yet. And so we decided we’d move in early and we’d spread our wings as far as we can and it started with a few videos. And now I think as of last week we reached 400 million views and we’ve kind of dominated the Medicine Explained hashtag and it’s just gone crazy. But just the biggest thing being in medical school, we kind of are always…we’re being trained by the older generation. And we just understand that the world is completely different and there’s so many tools that are disposable that, that we need to use now.

And Amanda’s classmates in her public health class were actually like, why would we use social media? They were asking the Louisiana Department of Health, how they get their message out there. And they were like, “We do prints in the newspaper. We do some bus ads.” And we’re like, “What about social media?” And they’re like, “No, what would we do? We have nothing to talk about.” We’re like, “Okay. Well, that’s a problem there, that this lane is wide open. Let’s step in there.”

James Maskell: Yeah. I think when most people think about TikTok and medicine, they picture nurses in kind of empty COVID wards doing dance routines. So just give us a picture for those people who aren’t on TikTok and will never get on TikTok, what you’re doing over there and what kind of—

Amanda D’Almeida: No, I’m dancing all the time. No, one of my rules was I don’t want to dance. And actually we haven’t shown her face besides our live events. We haven’t made one video where we show our faces. So what we do is we make cardboard cutouts of health topics so recently we did…I mean, we’re going to do, what is the importance of community? We did, what’s the importance of sleep? So we always start with a question and then we explain it with cardboard cutouts and easy terminology because doctors can always forget. It’s easy for medical students and doctors to forget what is common terminology and what people can understand. And we explain it with cardboard cutouts, and we source everything, and we’ve just gained a ton of traction with that and people send in…every day, we get hundreds of questions asking us certain health topics. And really what we want to do is just empower people to take control of their own health.

James Maskell: Amazing. Yeah, that’s really exciting. So how we met is that you reached out because you wanted to talk, you’re starting your own podcast and you wanted to get some functional medicine leaders onto your podcast. It’s awesome, honestly, to hear that the medical students and particularly people getting 400 million views are interested in functional medicine, where did this interest come from? And what would you say has been, I guess, some of the exciting parts about featuring real health topics, empowering health topics on your platform?
Daniel Villavecer: Yeah, I think for functional medicine, I think we originally got interested in integrative medicine, and that kind of opened us up to new approaches to health and then we kind of found functional medicine. And it’s through a lot of people like Mark Hyman, like yourself who kind of put the information out there and we’ve been able to go down the rabbit hole to find it, but it’s pretty much that. And then also our own health journeys, our own journeys to figuring out how to help patients and just thinking about what’s the most sustainable way? How can we optimize our own health? And if we’re doing it for ourselves, if we’re sleeping good, we’re meditating, eating whole foods. We should also probably be preaching this to our patients, and I think functional medicine does a good job doing that.

Amanda D’Almeida: Yeah. And I’ve always been very into lifestyle and exercising, eating healthy. I grew up in a pretty small rural town. And so I always had access to healthful food and fresh whole food. And I’ve recognized how much that’s changed my brain function and just how I feel and my mood. And I was becoming a little bit disillusioned with the pharmacy-first approach in medical school and how reactive we are and all these conditions that we see, these chronic conditions in the hospital, a lot of them can be preventable with lifestyle changes and obviously some structural changes as well, which I know that you focus on with your community care and such.

And so it really led us to look for other means of treating patients and creating health. And I think that it’s really important that you’re doing this marketing series because the only way that we would have ever discovered functional medicine, it isn’t talked about in medical school. But we found functional medicine practitioners on social media that we then followed, and that allowed us to gain more interest, gain more traction, learn more. And honestly, if any of the listeners out there are functional medicine practitioners or functional medicine or students interested in functional medicine, it is vital to get on social media because mainstream media right now isn’t talking about it. And I think that like you believe it’s the future of medicine.

James Maskell: Absolutely. So tell me a little bit about some of the interactions that you have with other medical students who are not hip to functional medicine and how those conversations go.

Amanda D’Almeida: We try to bring it up slowly not just hit them with one drastic change to everything that we’re taught.

Daniel Villavecer: Yeah. I mean, it’s super interesting. I mean we have little clubs and interest groups at school. I was the president of the entrepreneurship group and I tried to get people involved of this whole physician empowerment thing, and tried to harness people with these skills to really take control of their career. And a lot of people aren’t really interested in that. And then we had an integrative medicine group and people weren’t too interested in that. They’re like, “Oh, what is mindful eating?” And then functional medicine’s kind of the same thing, but when we talk to our friends about functional medicine, I’m like, “Oh, what do you do for your own health?” And I asked them these questions and kind of go down this line of thinking, and they’re all doing fundamental functional medicine stuff already for themselves. And so I think they can also find that connect to wanting to help patients that way.

Amanda D’Almeida: Yeah. I think that there’s still…we’re in a traditional medical school model, allopathic medicine, and we don’t have that many physicians talking to us about functional medicine. And that goes back to again, what I was saying with functional medicine doctors need to get their voices out there on social media or in medical school education. But if you do talk to our classmates one-on-one and slowly bring up functional medicine and lifestyle, everyone is very supportive of it. It just hasn’t been packaged in a way that has been quite understandable and actionable for us yet.

James Maskell: And just before we go onto the marketing side of things, did you notice any changes during COVID with medical students trying to work out what vitamin D did and why it was so effective at reducing the effects of COVID? Did that open up any doors?

Amanda D’Almeida: I think that COVID has made…obviously it’s changed everything. It’s really shaking things up. It’s hard to say because I think that a lot of people in medical school, including ourselves, are really busy. And so we are focused and we’re all working as hard as we can for a certain test. And on that test, there isn’t anything about vitamin C, vitamin D; it’s very, again, pharmacy-first, pharmaceutical approach first. I think that people’s minds are being changed and opened to new possibilities of the future. I mean, telemedicine has become huge. And at first, a couple of years ago if you talked to most of the classmates about it, telemedicine wasn’t really on their radar but now it’s becoming a leading force in healthcare. And so I think that people are open to the change, but honestly not as much talk about vitamin D and vitamin C as I had hoped.

James Maskell: Got it. Okay. All right. Well, look, we’re going to have to do something about it. So look, you’ve got the attention here of a few thousand functional medicine practitioners, and we’re going to have a secret plan that only listeners of this podcast they’re going to get into. But we’re going to dominate TikTok as a community and you have done it, so you’ve got hundreds of millions of views, millions of followers. Give our practitioners here today, if they turn on the TikTok today, what are the strategies to get the word out there? And how can our community all pile on to TikTok, make a huge impact, get the word out there and start to change the conversation with this next generation of people that will either end up as patients with chronic illness in 10 years in all of our clinics, or we’ll be the healthy new generation to transform medicine?

Amanda D’Almeida: Awesome. Yeah. So I also want to say that there is definitely, definitely hope. We just need to keep talking about it more. It just hasn’t infiltrated quite as deeply as we needed to. So I would love everyone listening to at least give to TikTok a try. Instagram has become very saturated. It’s hard for people to find content. It’s hard to grow on there. We in less than a year, grew over 1.5 million followers over 400 million follow our views on our hashtag. We’ve partnered with the UN to make content. We now have a partnership with TikTok in their education sector, but recently Daniel and I recently wrote a book, a small book, microbook on five steps on TikTok for science and health experts. So the basic five steps is, why social media is critical for me? And I think we already touched on that. Social media can get your name out there to get information out there for free. And it’s easier to gain traction with people and to get followers and potential clients.

And then the second one is how can I discover my brand and niche? And for that, your brand is really critical to stay true to. So for us, we always start with a question and answer the question throughout the TikTok, and we want to keep people to the end. And that’s why we start with the question, they need to stay until the entire end for the answer to their question. And that’s the thing with TikTok is you want to make it short and digestible. And so people watch it over and over again because that’s best for the algorithm. And people’s attention span today is very short.

And what we did too, is once we found a brand that worked you double down, so we make a cardboard cutout, construction paper. And I think something that’s being more and more relevant is authenticity. And on Instagram, it used to be the perfect picture and the perfect pose and the perfect lighting, but on TikTok, people want authenticity and realness. And so I think that if you can bring some vulnerability to the posts, that gains the most traction. And of course Daniel will jump in whenever.

Daniel Villavecer: Yeah, yeah. So I would just urge all functional medicine doctors to be active on social media, but specifically TikTok. And then if you learn how to do TikTok, you can also hedge your bets by reposting them onto Instagram Reels. And they’re pushing their Reels the same way that TikTok is pushing theirs. And we need to let every doctor know that the way the algorithm works on TikTok is that your first video could go viral. Your second video could go viral. You don’t need to build this massive following like you would on YouTube to get your video to be pushed out. And so generally you put out a video, it gets pushed out to 50 people. If all 50 of those like it, it exponentially grows and gets pushed out to more people. And that’s how you can get virality overnight.

So I first recommend all of them to just get on the app and start playing around with it. Two, I want them to know that TikTok is very, very serious about education. We have internal meetings with TikTok all the time and their number one goal is really education. They’re planning to almost do separate feeds of all education content. And so we’ve partnered with them to create educational content specifically for that. But I just want people to know that it’s essential, it’s not just dancing. It’s definitely not just dancing. So get on that now.

And three, doctors have so much knowledge that we’ve been entrenched in the books for so long that we forget that things that we learned five, 10, 20 years ago are fascinating to the younger generation. And so if you can just put out little tidbits like, “Oh, fish oils are good and here’s why.” Just put it out. It takes five seconds, put that knowledge out and it may hit a million people. And so just keep trying to do that and keep putting it out, be yourself. And then you have so much interesting knowledge. Just put it out there, give it a try.

Amanda D’Almeida: And that’s one other thing about TikTok is on Instagram you really have to curate how perfect it is and how perfect your posts look. On TikTok again, it goes back to the authenticity. I know that doctors are really busy and so TikTok is the best social media platform for someone who doesn’t have any time.

James Maskell: Yeah, that’s great. I’m sure that’ll be exciting to them, to practitioners, too. What is this story with the hashtagging on TikTok? And how were you able to get so much traction on that medicine explained hashtag? And how does that sort of work for other? Should other practitioners try to create their own hashtag that they use or should they follow you? What would be the best strategy for sort of implanting it and getting into places where other people are looking?

Daniel Villavecer: So selfishly, I would tell a lot of these functional medicine doctors to use the hashtag #MedicineExplained because it’s pretty self-explanatory and it also…I mean, if you search for medicine on TikTok, it’s #Medicine number one, and number two is #MedicineExplained. And early on we had the idea to do that hashtag because we figured it would show up on that page and people who are putting out medicine and health-related content would also use it. And it would inherently push our brand, but I would definitely recommend them to limit their hashtags and be really specific with them. So, I mean, if I was a functional medicine doctor starting tomorrow, I would do my name, I would do functional medicine and then probably hashtag it off and just keep it simple and really kind of carve out your niche and get your section of the pie.

James Maskell: Yeah. So the next question I want to ask you. So this is typically the way that it goes in functional medicine, is doctors get trained, they’re in regular practice. They don’t need social media. In fact, they’re probably discouraged from doing it, right? Then they have this realization that they need to go to functional medicine through their own health or the health of a family member. They take the training and up until a few years ago, their only choice if they wanted to actually do functional medicine every day was to build their own practice. Now there’s more and more practices hiring where you could just have a job and do it every day, which is great. But a lot of practitioners have sort of been forced into entrepreneurship where they have to kind of learn as they go. And learning EHS and marketing and email lists and lead magnets is tricky enough as it is, never mind TikTok.

So it’s sort of like your backhanding and you’re having to learn things on the fly afterwards, which is not ideal but ultimately, it is what it is. I guess my question for you guys is, now that you haven’t even finished medical school yet, and you already have this big following and because you already know what’s going on, you’re connected to TikTok, it’s all going to keep sort of rambling forward, what’s the vision? What can you do now that you already have that user base? That user base is only going to grow with this podcast and now moving things across to Instagram, using Reels, being savvy about it. Coming out of medical school with that sort of platform, how has that changed your ideas about what is possible with your career, as opposed to some doctor who just has to like work it out on the fly after they had that big realization?

Daniel Villavecer: That’s a great question and it’s something that we think about a lot. We spend a lot of time on this actually. And we started it knowing that we wanted to kind of pave our own way within medicine. We kind of knew that the traditional box wouldn’t fit for us and functional medicine has been a great kind of field goalposts to kind of work towards. But we always knew that the number one goal was to educate people and really just to help people. And so we use all these mediums and we just as doctors, the number one thing that we learned is communication. And so whether it be TikTok, whether it be podcasts, whether it be YouTube we as future health professionals, possibly future functional medicine doctors, we need to be able to communicate in every platform.

We had a previous discussion on our podcast about the overhead with practices, we knew two years ago that our future practice would be mostly virtual, just the way that things are. I mean, my first year in medical school, I told my classmates that I would be a telemedicine doctor primarily. I would do telemedicine only. And I was like, “Why would I be in a clinic out in the middle of nowhere? I’m going to be traveling the world, speaking from my laptop.” And I was lucky to have a background in tech before medical school and coming into it. So I was able to take a lot of these skills and I was able to look at medicine from a different lens. And I just think it’s so important. And we’re lucky we’re building all these skills now.

I mean, we plan to have a practice that we have health coaches, a lot of wearable technologies. So we’ll have every patient have an Apple watch or some type of device so we can get these metrics and these vitals all the time. But then as we had discussed before a totally virtual practice and then definitely incorporating a lot of what you talked about, and we hope to be able to scale that is these group communities.

Amanda D’Almeida: Yeah. And I think mostly what it gives us too, along with us educating and inspiring people and allowing people to health self-efficacy and take their health into their own hands. It gives us a lot of freedom. We were pretty disillusioned with how people are being treated and how healthcare is in the US today, and we want it to just keep people healthy. And we realized a couple of years ago when we started this whole thing, this whole TikTok account, that once we graduated medical school, we wanted to be able to treat people the way that we wanted to. And so if we had some kind of social media base and some kind of community that supported us, and we were like, “Hey, we graduated. We’re MDs. We may become functional medicine doctors. It allows us so much freedom to do what we want with our practice.”

James Maskell: Love that. Yeah, no, that’s it. Well, look, I’m super excited to see what comes of it. Everything that you’re saying is what we’ve been sort of preaching here for seven years with the functional forum, this cross-section of groups, coaching community, technology as this vision for getting people well and keeping people well and yeah, I’m excited to share. Just share a little bit about what you guys are doing on Discord too, because I feel like it sounds like you’re making some inroads on that platform and I’m pretty sure that 99% of people listening to this do not have Discord.

Amanda D’Almeida: Yeah. So Discord is essentially the new Facebook Messenger page, Facebook group. See I’m too young…

Daniel Villavecer: Yeah, so a lot of people, maybe degeneration is listening, uses Facebook pages and Facebook forums. And so they have little groups on there for whatever may be, whatever your interests may be. Discord is essentially the new pages and it’s almost a hub for…all gamers are on it, people in classes at school, they actually put their group messages on Discord. It’s kind of taking over the whole Facebook Messenger. Some people may use group meeting but Discord is that new hub for everything. It’s a great platform. So Amanda can explain more on why we started a Discord.

Amanda D’Almeida: Yeah. So it’s similar to, James, what you talk about with community and how important community is in a health journey. And so we created our Discord very recently and now we have a few hundred followers on there all chatting day in, day out, and we created specific channels for different groups. So we have a meditation group where people share if they’ve meditated that day. We have a walking group, we have a motivation and goals group. And really what Discord is, especially now during social distancing is a way for people to have connection and community. And our community is so supportive and so sweet and people can just shoot a message in there being like, “I have a test today.” And we have responses like, “You’ll do great, good luck. We’re rooting for you.” So again, it’s just support in a health journey.

James Maskell: Amazing. Well, guys, thanks so much for coming on the podcast. I think this is a great end to our series on marketing because ultimately we want it to look to the future and what this looks like down the road. So I’m glad that anyone who’s listening, I’m excited that you’ve been part of this and we’d love to continue to find ways to bring great content to our practitioner community and move functional medicine forward. And I’m excited to be on your podcast. I’m excited to see more and more content coming out from you guys on this functional medicine revolution. And also just the fact that like some of what we spoke about today, that there are emerging models where this kind of medicine can be delivered to everyone. And I think that that said it’s an exciting time to be in the space.

So we’ll put all the links in the show notes for your book that’s out about TikTok for medical science professionals, and we’ll look forward to continuing the conversation. Thanks so much for being part of the Evolution of Medicine Podcast. I’m your host, James Maskell and we’ll see you next time.

Thanks for listening to the evolution of medicine podcast. Please share this with colleagues who need to hear it. Thanks so much to our sponsors, the Lifestyle Matrix Resource Center. This podcast is really possible because of them. Please visit goevomed.com/lmrc to find out more about their clinical tools like the group visit toolkit. That’s goevomed.com/lmrc. Thanks so much for listening and we’ll see you next time.

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