A second-year University of Minnesota medical resident appears to be succeeding at something that has frustrated veteran public health experts for years — getting teenagers to listen to warnings about the hazards of vaping.
Dr. Rose Marie Leslie has amassed 197,000 followers on the social media video site TikTok, using her @DrLeslie account to blow steam about the stresses of medical residency, to amuse people with her skits, but especially to give people public health messages in a plain-spoken way.
Her side-by-side images of chest X-rays from a healthy person and a person who vapes drew nearly 200,000 likes and 3.5 million views.
“That’s a pretty gnarly chest X-ray,” she said in that post, which borrowed images from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Leslie’s residency includes seeing patients at the U’s Broadway Family Medicine Clinic in Minneapolis, and rounding and delivering babies at North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale.
The 29-year-old started using TikTok to post humor videos on lunch breaks and after her shifts — in one post wrapping a stethoscope around her forehead and pretending to be the Purple Doctorfish from SpongeBob cartoons. But her following took off when she started writing about health tips and topics.
“I’ve been able to give health information in an understandable, sometimes comical, way on a space where teens and adolescents exist,” she said.
Health officials have been trying to counter the rise in vaping, especially among teenagers who view it as a safer alternative to smoking and liked the fruit flavors and the ease with which e-cigarettes could be concealed. Concerns include the unregulated nature of vaping products, including the liquid cartridges that often contain high levels of addictive nicotine and in some cases toxic metals.
A new national survey found vaping among high school-aged students doubled from 2017 to 2019, and that 1 in 9 high school seniors are using e-cigarettes daily, according to the New England Journal of Medicine.
Concerns heightened with a recent national outbreak of severe lung injuries among e-cigarette users, although the main culprits appear to be illicit e-cigarettes or those containing marijuana or THC. Minnesota has reported 36 probable or confirmed cases — including one of six deaths in the U.S. linked to the outbreak — and is reviewing another 26 potential cases.
Leslie said she previously provided health education at the Minneapolis high school she attended, and at local clinics for teenagers and people with HIV. Sometimes she even performed skits about health care topics, so taking her act to social media seemed natural.
“Talking with teens about subjects that are seemingly uncomfortable is something that I have experience in,” sh said. “In all of its uncomfortableness, it does feel somewhat comfortable to me.”