Spreading the COVID-19 message in Pacific community
By Alan Perrott
Mt Roskill GP Vanisi Prescott, “the TikTok doctor”, knows the personal impact of good role models; she didn’t believe a job in medicine was possible until she saw Samoan GP Debbie Ryan in a white coat.
Then, after Dr Prescott completed her training, Fijian GP Apisalome Talemaitoga gently nudged her into the Pacific chapter of the RNZCGP, where she is now the registrar representative.
Her fellowship will eventually sit alongside the other she achieved – in urgent care medicine. A mother of three, she credits her work ethic to her Tongan mother, who took on multiple jobs to help feed the family.
Dr Prescott, a GP vocationally registered at Stoddard Road Medical Centre, says it’s her turn to not only inspire and support others to follow her into medicine, but to use her position to rail against COVID-19 misinformation.
Again, she credits a role model with prodding her into advocacy: her daughter, Zephaniah, who began creating short dance routines to post on social media site TikTok.
After realising how far their posts reached, especially among young people, she started a TikTok page of her own and began telling her own story. She explained how people still see her as an orderly, cleaner or nurse even since she became a doctor.
“That kind of went viral, and straight away I started thinking that this was a way to share my journey, the uplifting stuff and the struggles I have faced.”
Her earliest struggle was against herself, when poor marks saw her dumped into Onehunga High School’s lowest-ranked learning assistance class.
“I couldn’t stand being in that class, so I worked really hard, but I have to acknowledge the teachers who saw the potential in me.”
Dr Prescott’s page has more than 75,800 followers and has attracted 3 million likes. It has led to invitations to address school assemblies, requests for career advice, and shout-outs whenever she is recognised at vaccination centres.
But there has been a dark side. She has seen more COVID-19 misinformation being spread online among Pacific communities.
And she is now being attacked on the platform over the way her videos debunk outlandish claims, such as the Pfizer vaccine leaving people “magnetised”.
But Dr Prescott says only a small number of people believe she is ridiculing their relatives, or are “clouting” (a social media term for using attacks as self-promotion to attract followers.)
“So, I just keep thinking of the wider picture,” says Dr Prescott. “Most of the people I hear from just want information, so I tell them: ‘Look, you don’t have to believe me. Go talk to your GP, you trust them.’
“But I know this is something I need to do for our people, and to show that Pacific GPs are here to be a voice for our people as well.”
Reprinted with permission from New Zealand Doctor | Rata Aotearoa.