There are key benefits and risks for student pharmacists to consider when approaching an Instagram account for professional pharmacy purposes.
In 2019, an article in the Journal of the American College of Clinical Pharmacy titled “To tweet or not to tweet? A primer on social media for pharmacists,” encouraged pharmacists to engage professionally on social media, despite many pharmacists historically avoiding it for such purposes.1 With the article published 1 year after I had created my pharmacy podcast OVERxDOSE (pronounced “overdose”), I had just started a corresponding Instagram account (@overxdose), so I took an interest in the message of the article.2
Still today, many pharmacy students continue to primarily use LinkedIn, Facebook, and YouTube for professional development and networking.3 However, there remain key benefits and risks for student pharmacists to consider when approaching an Instagram account for professional pharmacy purposes.
Key Benefits to an Instagram Account
Pharmacist Social Networking
One of the main benefits an Instagram account can provide a pharmacist is an increased ability to network. Using my own account, I was able to connect with pharmacists throughout the country during the COVID-19 pandemic without ever physically meeting them by attending a conference or professional event.
When venturing into Instagram initially, I started by following popular pharmacy accounts, such as @rx.radio and @corconsultrx. By direct messaging them and asking for podcasting advice, I formed strong mentorship connections, and their professional guidance has helped me further my social media success.
Additionally, by creating my own pharmacy content and frequently interacting with other pharmacy accounts, the algorithm began to do the networking for me. Today, Instagram continues to suggest new pharmacy accounts for me to follow as more Instagram accounts are created, further expanding my professional network effortlessly.
Supplement Classroom Learning
In a 2015 meta-analysis, Facebook was the only social media used as a pharmacy educational tool.4 However, other health care professions commonly use Instagram as a resource to enhance student learning, with quiz-style practice questions being the most preferred type of content by followers.5,6
I noticed a similar trend when I created multiple-choice style questions based on patient assessment content on my account (Figure 1). Creating questions furthered my understanding of the material while also giving classmates self-assessment materials that better prepared us for the exam.
Stay Current on New Technology
With America’s online news consumption at an all-time high, more people are favoring news platforms on their mobile devices over desktop computers. While on their phones scrolling through the news, mobile users are also likely to flip to social media, as mobile users have been found to spend approximately 89% of their device time on social media; this makes social the quickest way to reach a targeted audience.7-9
By following Instagram, I learned about emerging technology and innovations revolutionizing pharmacy practice. For example, by using my Instagram account, I learned of advances in telehealth and the digitization of medication therapy management, the development of an automatic pill dispenser and other technology solutions aimed at enhancing medication adherence, and the latest in drug information.
A Creative Outlet and a Professional Identity
Social media also provides professionals with an outlet for creative expression and identity development.10 Since pharmacy students are expected to develop their professional identity as they progress through school and into their career, Instagram has been my outlet for creative expression, as it joins my interests in storytelling and humor with my love of pharmacy.
With Instagram, I can not only connect with others who have the same passions, but also provide an example of professional development on social media for future pharmacists still working to find their own voice.
Key Risks to an Instagram Account
Content Can Be Viewed as Unprofessional
Unprofessional posting has led to professional consequences ranging from a warning to expulsion and even termination of employment.11 Studies have shown medical students post more unprofessional content and observe their peers’ unprofessional content more frequently than faculty.12,13
My first posts on my account were pharmacy memes which some of my peers viewed as unprofessional. However, being open to constructive criticism from my peers and my dean’s office, I learned from my mistakes, and adapted what I posted to better reflect the professional image and message I wanted to convey. A large risk of social media is the publicity, but that is its strength too.
However, student pharmacists should be aware of these risks while balancing the opportunity to be a voice for the profession and portray themselves as they want their employers and patients to view them. The answer, in my opinion, is not to be silent on social media, but instead to be purposeful.
Distraction From Learning
The academic performance of pharmacy students has been found to correlate with time management, and pharmacy students have reported that their phones can pose as a distraction that can negatively impact their academic performance.12,13
Often, a quick study break to create content on social media or to scroll through my feed could turn into hours away from studying, resulting in my feeling less prepared for exams. Pharmacy students will have to find a balance, which is true for all creative outlets.
Negative Impacts on Mental Health
Following strangers on social media can lead to social comparisons that can negatively impact wellbeing as well.14 Specifically, research has shown that the increased use of Instagram can be partially associated with greater depressive symptoms. By following successful pharmacists, I have experienced my own mental wellbeing suffer by viewing their considerable accomplishments and comparing them to my own.
However, findings from another study demonstrated that following a smaller number of strangers on Instagram was associated with lower depressive symptoms. As I got to know pharmacists more, they no longer felt like strangers, and I felt my mental health improve as a result.
Instagram Pearls for Pharmacy Students
1. Follow Other Accounts for Ideas
Pharmacy students who want to create an Instagram account don’t have to reinvent the wheel. For example, viewing other Instagram accounts featured on popular pharmacy reposting accounts like @pharmacistsofig, @talktoyourpharmacist, @pharmacisthub, @pharmacistsincharge is a great starting point. A few accounts and their specific pharmacy content are displayed in Table 1.
2. Pause Before Posting
Pharmacy students should check their school’s social media and professionalism policies and consider how their content may be viewed by an employer before posting. If there is even a slight chance it violates a policy or could be viewed as unprofessional, it is best not to post the content. On social media, nothing is truly anonymous, forcing people to remain accountable for their postings.
3. Use Templates
Using free software like Canva, pharmacy students can create or choose pre-made templates and schedule their posts. Consistently using the same template and scheduling posts saves time and helps build a more consistent, professional Instagram account.
As new social media platforms are created and more research is conducted on the subject, I hope pharmacy schools, current pharmacists, and pharmacy students view Instagram as a valuable tool that presents the potential for an expansion of opportunities within the pharmacy profession.