Crystal Cox/Business Insider
- A now-deleted TikTok video of a nurse promoting abstinence outside of marriage to prevent STDs went viral this weekend.
- The post prompted Twitter users to talk about other prejudices and racism that they’ve felt from medical professionals, both in person and on social media.
- Some responded with videos of TikTok nurses they saw as more positive examples in the field.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
An 18-second TikTok video reposted on Twitter last week has led to anger, fear, and nuanced conversations about prejudice in medicine.
In the since-deleted video, a nurse in hot-pink scrubs smiles and points as words appear on around her, saying “The best way to prevent STDs is waiting for sex until marriage. Just the truth,” as she dances.
Holly Grace, who goes by “Nurse Holly,” on TikTok, is the woman in the video. She’s a singer and full-time nurse based in Nashville, the Wall Street Journal reported last April. At the time the Journal article was published, she had around 400,000 TikTok followers. Now, she has around 1.7 million followers on the app.
Nurse Holly’s video quickly gained outraged comments, and some of them extrapolated to anger at nurses on TikTok in general.
Some critics complained about nurses who post videos about not believing patients, and using the videos as an opportunity to discuss “horror stories about patronizing and incompetent doctors.”
In a statement to Business Insider, Grace wrote that she was aware of the backlash to her video, but says her intent was not to shame anyone.
“I understand that my voice will not be accepted by many as it’s an unpopular view, this video was simply created with the intention of helping little girls see that saving sex for one partner may have certain benefits,” Grace said. “I do truly apologize for any offense that was taken as I only wish to promote positivity and healthy lifestyles.”
Grace also said that before the video was deleted, she acknowledged in the comments that using protection was also important for preventing STDs.
Prejudice in medicine has consequences
Grace’s video seems to have struck a chord not just because of the beliefs she espouses, but because of her position in the medical profession.
The video, which some viewers felt was judgmental of patients who have sex outside of marriage, is just a symptom of the larger problem of prejudice, racism, and judgement patients say is endemic to medicine. With growing evidence that people of color, women, and other marginalized groups don’t necessarily get the same level of care from medical professionals, even a video that may have been meant as lighthearted sparked anger.
A May 2019 CDC report found that black women have more than three times the likelihood of pregnancy-related deaths as white women, and native women have more than twice the occurrence of pregnancy-related deaths than white women do.
This report validated personal stories from women like Tressie McMillam Cottom in Time, who wrote last year about three days of undiagnosed labor that resulted in the loss of her baby, though she had complained to her doctors about intense pain.
A 2016 study addressed the link between racial bias and not believing, or treating, patients’ pain. The study “provides evidence that false beliefs about biological differences between blacks and whites continue to shape the way we perceive and treat black people – they are associated with racial disparities in pain assessment and treatment recommendations.”
And a New York Times article from last year framed around helping patients ensure their concerns are taken seriously by doctors said that in the US, “if you’re not wealthy, not white and not heterosexual, you may be receiving less than optimal health care.”
The rise of the nurse influencer
TikTok has quickly become a heavy-hitting social media app along with the likes of Twitter and Instagram since its US launch in 2018. It evolved from video-sharing app Musical.ly, where users lip-synced along to 15-second audio tracks. China’s ByteDance bought Musical.ly in 2017 and folded it into TikTok. ByteDance is considered the most valuable private company in the world, worth an estimated $75 billion.
The app has been downloaded over 1.5 billion times, and it is the top free non-gaming iOS app. TikTok does not provide information on user demographics, but the app is likely closing in on Instagram and Snapchat in terms of active users – Instagram reached 1 billion monthly active users in 2018, while Snapchat has over 300 million.
Health care professionals have become their own kind of influencers on TikTok. The Wall Street Journal referred to Nurse Holly as a nurse-influencer, and doctors in various specialties have used TikTok as a way to educate viewers and help people with underrepresented conditions know that they’re not alone. Dr. Danielle Jones, or “Mama Doctor Jones,” calls herself “TikTok’s first gynecologist,” and posts videos about sexual health and combatting misinformation.
And while TikTok certainly didn’t start the conversation about the way prejudice and biases make seeking medical care more dangerous for certain minority groups, it did bring it to a young audience in an easily digestible format.
Most tweets about the video seemed to agree that it portrayed nurses in a negative light, but some were frustrated at the way they reflected the profession in general, and how that might hurt other nurses who do genuinely care about their patients.
Some people posted nurse TikToks that they saw as more positive, calling them a “breath of fresh air.”
Conversations about Nurse Holly and anger about her video have predictably already started to die down, but the post will likely continue circulating. TikTok’s short video format has unexpectedly become a tool that leads to discussions of race, imperialism, and taboo health issues, so as the platform grows, this might become the norm.
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How is there a new problematic nurse tiktok every day?
– Dan Sheehan (@ItsDanSheehan) January 12, 2020
Anyone else thinks it’s wrong that nurses and doctors are judging patients on TikTok? Btw, I am allergic to NSAIDS. My doctor seen me have a bad reaction and figured out what was wrong. Smh pic.twitter.com/gDJhzYh6ED
– Cora B (@mommyof2dogs) January 8, 2020
i need all these nasty white privileged “nurses” to get off of tiktok bc they’re ruining how people view nurses and although there are those few bad apples i promise you there are so many good nurses out there
– karina dacpano (@karinadacpano) January 12, 2020