When Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the nationwide lockdown on the evening of 24 March, Shikha Malhotra knew exactly what she had to do the next morning. Carrying the certificate that qualified her as a nurse, she walked to a nearby hospital run by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation in Jogeshwar and told the superintendent she wanted to volunteer. The certificate she received from Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital five years ago helped push her case—as did her popularity as an actor.
The next day, just before starting her new job as a nurse in a covid-19 isolation ward, Malhotra, 25, posted a picture of herself in a lab coat, scrubs, mask and a stethoscope around the neck on Instagram with #coronawarriorsinIndia. It went viral.
“I instantly realized the responsibility which came with that kind of recognition," says Malhotra, referring to the power of social media to shape opinions and beliefs. Since then, she makes it a point to share her life at the hospital daily and tips on how to stay safe from the virus with her 11,000-plus followers on Instagram.
Malhotra is part of a new generation of medical professionals in India who are using social media to fight growing misinformation about the pandemic and share personal experiences in an attempt to make people understand the importance of staying safe.
Unlike doctors and nurses in Western countries, who try to use different filters and emojis to keep people entertained and informed via TikTok, Instagram and Facebook, our medical fraternity likes to keep their posts more simple and in the moment.
“Indian doctors are very media shy," insists Dr Abhay Nene, a spine surgeon in Mumbai. He, along with his doctor friend Aditya Daftary, started #Lockdownwithdocs on Instagram and Facebook soon after the lockdown was announced. The account has doctors from across the country, sharing whatever they feel like, from how to do Zoom calls more productively to how to sit correctly in front of the computer and exercise at home.
“The idea was to put our day-to-day life during lockdown on display in a way to inform the public about how to maintain physical and emotional health. The response has been very encouraging; our patients tell us what they want to see next," says Dr Nene, 47. A few days ago, on a patient’s request, he posted a video on the best posture for sweeping. “It took me two days to figure out the right posture myself."
Ajitha Mohan, a young doctor at Bangalore Medical College and Research Institute, likes to keep her 100,500 TikTok followers entertained with fun videos about how her life has changed after covid-19. “I try to keep it light sometimes, like once I put together a video of doctors dancing during their free time, and other times it’s about the emotional toll this virus is having on us," says Dr Mohan, who is in her 20s. She believes sharing personal experiences like the photo of herself with marks on her nose from hours in an N95 mask are a way to remind people to stay safe at home. “It helps make people aware what their actions could cost us."
Social media posts also help raise awareness about hospital conditions. “There have been so many instances of doctors sharing information about lack of PPEs and ventilators at their hospital and some help has been offered," she says.
This social media trend of medical staff posting personal experiences that started in Italy, one of the first and worst affected countries, has its perks for the medical fraternity as well. “When doctors first started sharing their experiences, it became a window for us to understand what was coming towards us. In a way, those posts helped us prepare ourselves mentally, physical and emotionally. Their coping strategies even helped in preparing our hospitals," says Dr Rajani S. Bhat, a pulmonologist in Delhi, who uses Twitter to fight misinformation. Last month, she participated in a two-minute YouTube video, which featured pulmonologists from across the world, dancing to Justin Timberlake’s song Can’t Stop The Feeling.
“Doctors go home completely drained. So we wanted to capture a moment when we are enjoying ourselves and hopefully, cheer our patients in the process," says Dr Bhat, 44. “In times of physical distancing, social media is helping us connect emotionally."