By Laura Zimmermann, MD, MS, FACP; Eve Bloomgarden, MD, MPH, MACP
The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted life for most people in innumerable ways. As physicians, the pandemic demanded our urgent attention and our unique skills to save lives. Simultaneously, we found ourselves facing challenges and obstacles as parents. Overnight, schools closed, childcare disappeared, and many working mothers were put in an impossible position.
IMPACT (Illinois Medical Professionals Action Collaborative Team) was formed in March 2020 by seven physicians wanting to utilize the distinct perspective of doctor parents to identify and address community needs and educate and advocate for public health measures to keep our families, our patients and our communities safe. We quickly identified the need for rapid information gathering and the dissemination of accurate scientific guidance; the typical channels were not rapid enough during a global public health emergency. We appreciated that we had access to information about the virus in real time from our colleagues around the world, we had the skillset to process this information, we had the ability to disseminate scientific guidance quickly to our colleagues on the front line, and we had our own local parenting communities that needed to know what to do to keep themselves safe.
We were watching the crowds gathering to celebrate St Patrick’s Day in bars and the travelers packed together at O’Hare Airport trying to make sense of the conflicting travel restrictions, limitations and global lockdowns. Seeing the need for rapid action, we drafted a letter to the governor of Illinois and, in an effort to gain signatures, posted it to a private Facebook group, Physician Mommies Chicago. Within hours, hundreds of physicians had signed on, and the letter promptly landed on the governor’s desk.
We had successfully harnessed the power of social media – and the power of the physician mom – to rapidly effect change. Illinois was the second state with a shelter-in-place order.
The power of the physician mom is compelling for many reasons, including:
- Trust, credibility and expertise: Physicians and healthcare workers are trusted members of our society. We can leverage our credibility, professional stature and scientific expertise to rapidly appraise new information for the public, reinforce scientifically valid messages, and bear witness to our patients’ experiences.
- Inherently invested in advocacy for the health of children and communities: Moms make excellent advocates; we are credible, compassionate, strong, driven and protective.
- Overlapping social support networks: Physician moms exist in a complex network of personal and professional connections made through schools, places of worship, neighborhoods and professional societies as well as social media and other forums. These grassroots ties can facilitate rapid organizing and advocacy efforts as well as strategic partnerships which can be used to amplify and disseminate high-quality information.
In the tumultuous weeks following the drafting of that letter, we at IMPACT found our purpose: amplify physician voices to advocate for science-based policy, educate the public and promote health equity. We found a practical but novel way to do this by leveraging social media and innovative partnerships.
In subsequent months, we grew our team and our network. We now have more than 40 volunteer health professionals on our team, including pharmacists, public health experts, nurses and physicians representing several specialties. We have partnered with other grassroots organizations, including Dear Pandemic and GetMePPEChicago, and tapped into the reach of social media influencers like Bump Club and Beyond. We have also worked with medical organizations, such as the Illinois State Medical Society and Chicago Medical Society.
One of IMPACT’s greatest strengths is the organization’s ability to keep pace, almost in real time, with the ever-evolving landscape of the pandemic. Our use of social media and smart devices certainly contributes to this agility, but our strength comes from the work of the many busy but dedicated individuals who contribute a diverse set of skills, talents and resources to the cause, leaning in when they can (during nap time or between patients) and bowing out to let others take the baton when they can’t.
The organization identifies initiatives through an approach that balances “skate to the puck” and “lead from where you stand.” We have (nearly!) perfected the use of Slack and Google Docs to generate rapid-response letters to the editor and op-ed pieces within days – or even hours – to address the evolving pandemic discourse. As needs arise, we link people to resources in real time – PPE, vaccines, volunteers and even diapers and formula – through social media and our partners.
We are proud of the results we have achieved, which include:
Using social and traditional media to amplify the voices of healthcare workers: IMPACT has published more than 20 op-eds in prominent print and online publications such as the Chicago Tribune, Health Affairs, The Hill, Crain’s Chicago Business, Physician Weekly Magazine, Ms. Magazine and KevinMD. The organization was featured in the Chicago Tribune and on local television network news. Our founders have appeared on WTTW Chicago Tonight and Good Morning America and were featured in the Chicago Tribune, Crain’s Business Chicago, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes Magazine and TIME Magazine.
Our social media campaigns have resulted in Facebook/Twitter/Instagram pages with nearly 1,500 followers, with individual Facebook posts earning between 1,000 and 7,000 views. Successful campaigns have included: 1) a social-distancing hashtag, #6ftApartNotUnder, with more than 4,000 tweets and millions of impressions; 2) a Change.org petition calling for universal masking with more than 112,000 signatures; 3) a virtual #whitecoatforblacklives march that resulted in more than a million impressions on a single tweet; and 4) an infographic explaining how mRNA COVID-19 vaccines work that has been viewed more than 42,000 across social media platforms.
Addressing vaccine hesitancy with infographics and Facebook Live Q&A sessions: Using closed Facebook groups in Chicago and Illinois, we collected data on common myths reported by healthcare workers. We then created five debunking infographics in both English and Spanish using climate science principles. Our COVID-19 Myth Debunkers were shared more than 200 times for a total of more than 80,000 impressions. We also held Facebook Live discussions with moms through Chicago-based Bump Club and Beyond; each of these 15-plus Facebook Live events reached more than 1,000 people.
Linking healthcare workers to vaccines: Disparities in vaccination availability for healthcare workers not affiliated with large health systems (HCWs1a) were rapidly identified through multiple sources, including Twitter, Chicago Facebook groups for healthcare workers, emails and messages to IMPACT. An IMPACT clearinghouse for vaccine availability was created by procuring information rapidly through social media and professional networks.
Given high levels of interest (1,342 views/10 days; avg. 127/daily), IMPACT partnered with a local network of primary care clinics, Oak Street Health, which created a vaccination clinic with web-based vaccine registration for non-system affiliated HCWs. Targeted posts on Facebook were used to disseminate clearinghouse and vaccine clinic information. Facebook posts alone reached more than 1,650 healthcare workers; general member group posts reached more than 3,200 in seven days. In the first seven days of the campaign, more than 5,800 healthcare workers signed up for the Oak Street Health vaccine clinic, with more than 1,800 being vaccinated. A survey of a subgroup of vaccinated healthcare workers (N=1,500) showed more than 50 percent reported receiving information through social media or IMPACT’s clearinghouse.
While IMPACT was born out of the fight-or-flight response to the COVID-19 crisis, IMPACT’s work will persist far beyond the pandemic. With public health measures such as the need to wear masks and the efficacy of vaccines becoming politicized, healthcare voices are needed to guide policymakers and the public. While misinformation and misunderstanding have always occupied space in the public discourse, the last four years have brought an unprecedented, unrelenting war on science and truth. It is now our job to pick up the pieces and restore the public’s respect for science, truth and expertise by amplifying the advice from experts and flooding social and traditional media with high-quality information.
Both IMPACT and the Women in Medicine Summit will work together when missions align. IMPACT was built by physician parents, mostly moms, and as such is committed to advancing gender equity in healthcare. The pandemic has taken an enormous toll on healthcare workers in general, and on working moms in particular. The way to advance gender equity, dismantle systems that produce and perpetuate health inequities, and remain a trusted voice in the community is for us to continue using our voices together.
Laura Zimmermann, MD, MS, FACP
A primary care internist and lifestyle medicine physician. She is an Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine and Preventive Medicine at Rush University Medical Center. Dr. Zimmermann founded the Physician Mommies Chicago Facebook
group, which includes more than 2,400 physician mothers from the Chicagoland area. She is also Co-Founder and Chief Medical Officer of the Illinois Medical Professionals Action Collaborative Team (IMPACT), an organization leveraging social and other media to fight misinformation and advocate for science-based policy during the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Zimmermann is the Medical Director of the Rush University Prevention Center, a multidisciplinary lifestyle medicine clinic integrating medical and behavioral care for lifestyle change to prevent and manage chronic illness. She is also the Director of Clinical Preventive Medicine for Rush University Medical Group, leading interdepartmental quality improvement initiatives in hypertension control, cancer screening and tobacco cessation. She lives in Oak Park, Ill., with her partner, science and music writer Rob
Mitchum, and their two young sons.
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Eve Bloomgarden, MD, MPH, MACP
A board-certified endocrinologist at Northwestern Medicine and Assistant Professor in the Division of Endocrinology, Metabolism and Molecular Medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Dr. Bloomgarden received her medical degree from New York University and completed residency and fellowship training at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Bloomgarden’s clinical expertise is in the diagnosis and management of thyroid disorders and thyroid cancer as well as general endocrinology. She is a clinician educator and contributes to the medical education of students, residents and fellows. She loves spending time with her husband, also a physician, and their two young children. She is the Co-Founder and Chief Development Officer of IMPACT, a volunteer coalition started by seven physicians at the beginning of the pandemic to identify and address community needs, amplify healthcare worker voices and educate and advocate for public health measures.