Instagram offers a myriad of ways to share content and connect with others.
Although often seen as an app for photos of food or exotic vacations, more and more health care professionals are using Instagram to build a platform and share their perspectives. For pharmacists and pharmacy students, Instagram offers a unique way to share insights from the profession while connecting with others.
The solely visual aspect of Instagram may seem limiting at first glance, but sharing images and stories from pharmacy school can allow students to communicate perspectives that make them truly unique. From nontraditional students to those who used social media to connect with others during the COVID-19 pandemic, we spoke with pharmacy students who are utilizing Instagram as a springboard for their pharmacy careers.
As a third-year student at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (MCPHS) in Boston, Sabrina Zhang began exploring Instagram to document her unique journey as a future pharmacist. Her Instagram account, @la.farmacie, has garnered more than 3200 followers and receives upwards of 2000 profile visits per week. Although this is impressive, Zhang told Pharmacy Times® that the real value for her is in connecting with others.
“To me, metrics are not important as much as the meaningful interactions I have via [direct messages] with people who are pharmacy enthusiasts and people in health care,” Zhang said in an email. “I feel fulfilled when I can learn from people and help others through some of the knowledge and experiences I own.”
As a first-generation student, Zhang said she had very little knowledge about a career path in pharmacy. During her undergraduate years at Boston University in Massachusetts, she worked hard to network with others and seek out information about pharmacy. Her Instagram account came out of the desire to document her journey as a first-generation student and connect with others who might be seeking more information.
The visual aspect of the app was another draw. Zhang said it allows her to share captivating content that integrates both information and aesthetics. The page has also created many new opportunities to connect with others and find information that might not be available anywhere else.
“Through Instagram, I was able to collaborate with other health care [and] education accounts as well as brands that reached out for partnerships,” Zhang said. “I am truly grateful for being able to expand my network and connect with not only pharmacists and student pharmacists but also other health care students and providers. In a way, this platform has given me the chance to grow life skills that go beyond what we learn in school.”
At the moment, Zhang said she does not have specific future plans for the page, although she plans to continue using it to share snippets of her life as a student pharmacist. For now, her main goal is to focus on schoolwork. In addition to her PharmD degree, Zhang is working on a Precision Medicine Graduate Certificate and is taking classes at MCPHS in conjunction with courses at Harvard Medical School in Boston.
For others who may be interested in starting a professional Instagram account, Zhang said her best advice is to be honest with viewers about your thoughts and experiences. Instagram allows users to share information with viewers who are not in the medical field, and pharmacy students and pharmacists can use it to raise awareness about the work pharmacists do. However, she said to always keep professionalism in mind. “My page is my safe place, where I can share my personal views and be outspoken about my experiences and student life,” Zhang said.
When the COVID- pandemic began, many students found their plans upended. With more free time suddenly on her hands, Mehr Virk, a PGY emergency medicine pharmacy resident, decided to launch a podcast and Instagram account to connect with her listeners. More than 2 years later, Virk’s account, @lifeonthepharmpodcast, has gained a loyal following. The podcast documents everything about her journey to becoming a clinical pharmacist, and her Instagram presence gives listeners another way to connect.
“For me, Instagram is a great tool to not only archive moments and thoughts from the past but also interact in real time with others,” Virk said in an email to Pharmacy Times®. “It has all the benefits of a blog in being able to communicate in written form, share links, answer questions in private and public ways, and centralize the information and resources I hope can help others while giving a view into the other aspects of my life.”
Virk said she likes to keep her content new and engaging. Instagram offers a variety of ways to connect, including sharing photos, videos, or Reels. Virk also utilizes Linktree, a platform that allows users to follow links from Virk’s platform and find more information.
Mentorship and advocacy for the pharmacy profession are important goals for Virk, and she said Instagram allows her to do both daily. “A huge reason I decided to share my experiences in the first place was because of the advice and guidance provided to me by others who had been in my shoes,” Virk said. “Everything I went through to get to where I am today, someone else had either been through themselves or knew somebody who [had]. Being able to offer insight and clarity about the role of a pharmacist can hopefully help others feel better informed about pharmacy.”
Authenticity is key for anyone looking to grow a presence on Instagram, Virk said. She added that pursuing pharmacy is challenging on its own, so knowing when to take a step back from the platform and live in the moment is essential. Currently, her plans are to continue sharing content and potentially utilize Instagram Stories more often to speak directly with viewers. Above all else, Virk said pharmacy students should take the time to identify exactly what type of career they want and go after it.
As a mother and older student with previous degrees, third-year pharmacy student Cydney Nicholson said she launched her Instagram page (@cydney.nicholson) after noticing a lack of exposure for nontraditional pharmacy students. In addition to her work as a dual-degree PharmD/MPH student at Campbell University College of Pharmacy & Health Sciences in Buies Creek, North Carolina, Nicholson is currently president of the college’s Student Ambassadors program and Student National Pharmaceutical Association, vice president of the college’s Kappa Epsilon pharmaceutical fraternity chapter, and treasurer of the college’s Pharmacy Student Executive Board. She has also served as an education and training intern at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.
In addition to all this, Nicholson has built an Instagram platform with more than 2500 followers. In an email to Pharmacy Times®, Nicholson said she was drawn to Instagram because it offers flexibility with videos, images, and text and allows her to build connections with the audience through direct messages or comments.
“Instagram has helped me connect and network with so many individuals within pharmacy,” Nicholson said. “Through my conversations with Dr Joshua Blackwell about my Instagram page, I was able to become a [Pharmacy Initiative Leaders] communications and content intern. I [also] have Dr Marissa Brooks (a popular pharmacy influencer) as my supervisor, which is amazing.”
One of Nicholson’s most popular posts was a short video in which she discussed the excitement of having a class cancelled. That video alone garnered more than views, and Nicholson’s content has also allowed her to build brand collaborations.
Nicholson said her plans for Instagram are to continue growing her audience and showcasing her life as a pharmacy student, mother, and fiancé. Instagram can sometimes feel like a facade, so she added how important it is to facilitate and maintain an authentic connection with her audience.
For pharmacy students who may be hesitant about starting a professional Instagram account, Nicholson urged them to jump in. “You close yourself off from opportunities by not taking a chance,” she said. “Your journey could [affect] others.”