When Eugene A. Stead Jr, MD, established the first class of physician assistants (PAs) at Duke University Medical Center in 1965, he never could have imagined PAs documenting their careers on a computer, let alone on social media. But as modern PAs have become compelled to share professional advice and personal expertise, social media, specifically Instagram, has become a hub for both professional and personal development. 

Color-coordinated, meticulously-curated Instagram profiles are not the first priority for busy PA students and clinicians.  These providers balance perfecting their social media presence with other hobbies in the few off hours they do not spend studying or treating patients. For many PAs who are active on Instagram, having a public outlet to share the highs and lows of daily life is well worth their time. It’s an outlet for them to share their stories with others, and it highlights what working as a PA is really like, which informs the incoming generation of PAs on social media.  The Clinical Advisor conducted interviews with PAs and PA students across the country on their experience on using social media as outreach for others.

“Best case I can help one person, worst case nobody finds my page,” Jada Dillner, a first-year PA student at Campbell University in North Carolina, stated. After serving as president of the Pre-PA Club at North Carolina State University as an undergraduate, Ms Dillner discovered her appreciation for mentorship. She started her Instagram, @jadamarie.pa, to share content she would have found helpful when she was younger.

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Ms Dillner’s self-described “public diary” grew faster than she expected; she now has more than 8800 followers after launching her page in April 2020, when the tail end of her undergraduate career and involvement with her university’s pre-PA club was modified by the COVID-19 pandemic. Ms Dillner then had to consider how to deliver helpful information to aspiring PA students in a virtual format. Her page has grown into a resource for both current and future PA students who seek inspiration, study tips, organization hacks, and a realistic glimpse into the daily life of a PA student.

Gabriela De Vita, PA-C, CDE, RD, a family medicine PA in Detroit, points out the importance of being realistic and acknowledges the challenging aspects of her profession through her social media posts. Ms De Vita has nearly 13,000 followers on her page, @healthymode.pa, where she shares what it’s like to be a recent PA school graduate.

“When I was in school, a lot of my followers wanted to know how I studied, what challenges I faced, and more about my rotations,” Ms Devita noted. “A lot of accounts die after people graduate because it’s a whole new game, but my plan is to continue documenting as I start my career. I try to be as transparent as I can, because, sometimes, social media can feel like a highlight reel.”

As a Latina, Ms De Vita hopes her visibility shows other non-White Americans that they can succeed as a PA. Daniela Salazar, PA-C, who works in family medicine in New York City, hopes that her page does the same. Ms Salazar notes that increased access to mentors who share their identity can help increase the number of minority providers in the future.

Ms Salazar’s passion for fitness and nutrition is evident on her page, @fitpa_balance, where more than 20,000 people follow her to learn more about her PA school journey and watch workout videos. She advocates for clinicians to make their own health a priority through finding balance, eating well, and exercising frequently.

“We’re here to take care of people, but sometimes we don’t take care of us,” Ms Salazar told the Clinical Advisor. “If we can’t do that, we can’t expect our patients to do the same.”

For many Instagram-savvy PAs, the content they decide to post is largely dependent on their personal interests and expertise. Peter Trinh, PA-C, a gastroenterology PA in Dallas, has a passion for helping recent graduates sort out their finances and loan payments. Mr Trinh shares these financial tips with more than 2200 people who follow his page, @pete_trinh.

“It’s something we don’t talk about because it might be taboo, but I’m comfortable with it and want to help the next generation of PAs going forward,” he said.  

Jazmine Kwong, PA-C, a neurology and aesthetics PA in Los Angeles, has attracted more than 21,000 followers to her page, @jazminek_pa, where she hopes to inform and motivate providers of all disciplines, but keeps future PAs top of mind.

“When creating content, I reflect on what I wish I needed as a pre-PA,” Ms Kwong said. “‘What are the topics that I would have wanted to see? Where do I go for more resources?’ These are the ideas that go through my mind when I brainstorm on what to post. At times, I will ask pre-PAs directly, ‘What else can I do for you?’”

When George Shian, a second-year student at SUNY Downstate in New York City, applied to PA school, he learned what pitfalls to avoid from other PA bloggers. Now, after receiving 7 PA school acceptances, he shares his knowledge in hopes of making the application process easier for future PA students on his page @george.shian, where he has gained more than 11,000 followers.

“I was a successful applicant when it came to PA school, and I realized that a lot of people had questions,” he said. “I decided that since I have all of this advice and experience, why not talk about that and help people?”

Some PAs who are active on social media have secured paid partnerships with various brands. Ambassadorships and sponsored posts allow PAs with high follower counts to supplement their incomes through Instagram and become more well-known and trusted in the industry, but for most PAs on social media, perks and recognition are not their focus. Instagram has become a popular platform for PAs and PA students to be visible figures for younger people interested in the profession.

Mr Trinh encapsulated the PA presence on social media: to give back and assist future clinicians. “At the end of the day, what was the point of all this? Was it the clout, or was it to help students? If it was to help students [and practicing PAs], you should be proud,” he said.