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Feature Story

Going Viral: Dr. Rubin on Using TikTok to Spread A/I Awareness

Zachary Rubin, MD
Given his viral videos and the ease with which he presents content on camera, you’d think AAAAI member Zachary Rubin, MD, had been using social media for years. In fact, he didn’t use it much at all until the summer of 2020. “I’d started working in a practice during the pandemic and it was so hard to meet people. I started using Twitter to make connections.” It wasn’t until spring of 2021 that he would join TikTok, on the recommendation of a medical student from Twitter.
“I just dabbled at first, then some accounts providing really good, accurate information found my page and told people to follow me,” he said. “I gained 12,000 followers overnight! My account really started to take off that summer, and I began working with organizations that were using social media to debunk misinformation, particularly about COVID-19.”
Dr. Rubin also sprinkled in allergy/immunology and pediatric care content. Now, he talks about a variety of topics on hic channel concerning A/I, human rights, infectious diseases and more.
One of his more recent viral videos is a TikTok he posted on National Penicillin Allergy Day. “It feels good to share information that members of the public may not know,” said Dr. Rubin. “While I posted that video about how most people with a penicillin allergy label are not truly allergic on National Penicillin Allergy Day, the video is still watched daily. It’s funny how social media can work, and that important information can continue to be viewed and shared for a long time to help educate the public.”
As he became more involved with informing the public using social media, he came to find TikTok was a great way to reach the younger generation. “I realized I could really make an impact with short-form content on TikTok,” he said. “It’s a great way to provide tidbits of information, and to do so very quickly. I can see something is trending, make a video and add captions, then get out information that’s pertinent to people.”
He also finds it fun to add some personality to his content. “I’ve learned that people expect professionals, including healthcare professionals, to be more relatable. Especially after the pandemic started,” he added. Hula hooping, for example, is not what a person might necessarily expect to see a physician like Dr. Rubin do while they are providing accurate medical information. But it shows the human side of the professional, and that physicians are people with their own hobbies and lives. “Embrace your goofy side! It’s okay to show you do normal things. I do it in a way that is fun for me, and it resonates with my audience. I truly believe that it makes me more relatable and therefore, more trustworthy.”
Of course that’s not to say that using social media to spread awareness doesn’t come with challenges. Health misinformation can be difficult to combat, especially when individuals are sharing their personal stories online. Dismissing myths often invites pushback, which could be influenced by industries that benefit from misinformation. But Dr. Rubin doesn’t let that discourage him. “At the end of the day, I always strive to educate, give good information for people to find, have fun and build a community.”
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“Dr. Rubin is helping to fill a huge void through his amazing presence on TikTok and social media. Misinformation is rampant online and Dr. Rubin uses his relatable and engaging personality to combat the bad information by providing quality evidence-based education to the general public.”
David Stukus, MD, FAAAAI, AAAAI Social Media Medical Editor
Dr. Rubin has done a lot of experimenting to find what works best for him and his audience, and how to reach beyond his audience to the broader public. “I reach a certain audience but to reach outside of that, I need to do something outside the box. My most viral video starts with a woman performing a summersault, about to transition to a clip of her appearance changing. Instead you see me pop up in a tuxedo talking about monkeypox.” The video is 14 seconds long and has almost eight million views. It’s funny while providing important medical information.
“It’s been quite a journey,” Dr. Rubin said. “I have over 260,000 followers on TikTok. I’m active on Twitter and Instagram. Sometimes I do media appearances. It’s gratifying to be able to provide important information to the public in a way that seems to resonate with them.”