The Jordanian doctors finding fame amid COVID-19

Doctors try to balance education and entertainment on social media

Adam Bataineh, an internal medicine doctor, presenter at Al-Jazeera, and cofounder of Span Health. The doctor has amassed over 20,000 followers on Instagram. (Photo: Handout from Adam Bataineh)
Adam Bataineh, an internal medicine doctor, presenter at Al-Jazeera, and cofounder of Span Health. The doctor has amassed over 20,000 followers on Instagram. (Photo: Handout from Adam Bataineh)
AMMAN — As the pandemic spread and businesses, schools, and public spaces closed down, many Jordanians began to turn to a new source of medical information: Instagram. Doctors have risen to popularity on the social media platform by sharing information about COVID-19 and other ailments.اضافة اعلان

Before March 2020, Adam Bataineh had no social media presence whatsoever. A Jordanian internal medicine doctor living in the United Kingdom, Bataineh experienced first-hand the initial force of the pandemic as the UK sweepingly shut down. He soon found himself on the frontlines of the first wave of COVID-19.

One random post on a private Instagram catapulted him to viral status, with news outlets reporting on his efforts to fight medical disinformation. Initially, the doctor did not think it was necessary for him to continue posting. But after receiving a multitude of questions on social media, he felt an obligation to respond.

"I just started getting so many questions, and to be honest, I felt like there was a lot of misinformation going on around the Arab world and in Jordan, and that's when I felt a bit of responsibility that I could probably make a dent in that and try to disseminate more factual-first information," Bataineh said in an interview with Jordan News.

Outside of the coronavirus, Bataineh has utilized the popular image-sharing platform to inform his approximately 24,000 followers of chronic diseases, nutrition, and exercise. He emphasized the importance of dispelling false narratives and bogus cures for diseases that are deceitfully promoted on social media.

"A lot of people fall into that trap, and start distrusting doctors or think that doctors are ignorant of all these cures that they see online just because they're part of the 'conspiracy' or that they're part of the 'ignorant mainstream,’” explained Bataineh.

However, he added that doctors are a bit to blame for the problem as the medical community is "a bit lacking behind on prevention, and nutrition, and exercise, and really being able to help patients using these kinds of methods, and there might actually be an over-reliance on medication and drugs."

‘A very trivial thing’
Like Bataineh, Osama Al-Odat is also active on social media. The Jordanian orthopedic surgeon boasts 307,000 followers on Instagram alone. His videos range from information on bone fractures to first aid to busting medical myths. Odat has an almost fanatical following: A quick Instagram search of his name will generate so many fan pages you would think he was a celebrity.

Osama Al-Odat, an orthopedic and trauma surgeon, has amassed hundreds of thousands of followers on Instagram for his educational content. (Handout from Osama Al-Odat)

However, Odat actively makes a point to separate his profession from his social media. His Instagram is filled with long haul videos discussing various medical issues and questions that he answers from the messages he receives.

He often hosts live videos in collaboration with other doctors to increase awareness of topics. This is all his way to tie medicine to social media to promote medical awareness in a way that will impact people but also remain engaging.

He's also dedicated a full Youtube page for anyone wanting answers to a specific issue. But despite this, he does still worry sometimes that social media can muddle his work.

"The problem is that, once you're in the influencers category, teenagers start to look at (me) as an influencer and they want to take selfies, and that is a problem,” the surgeon said in an interview with Jordan News. “I don't feel like I'm a celebrity, and I don't consider myself to be famous but I feel like people keep trying to make me become this person, and I feel that this concept is a very trivial thing."

Odat actively makes a point to emphasize that he is a doctor, and just because he likes posting on social media does not mean that he is automatically a celebrity, nor does he want to be.

Like Bataineh, he too began touching on the novel coronavirus and the vaccines in his social media posts.

"A lot of my followers were sending me messages and asking me questions about it, and it's not my specialty,” said Odat. “But any general medical issue, as a general practitioner, I can talk about it, because it's considered medicine 101.”

His focus on the virus during the pandemic helped exponentially grow his following to the magnitude it is today. When asked if he finds his social media reach intimidating, his response was a definitive yes.

"It's very beautiful to travel around the world and find people that know you, and that know you as a doctor, so they have respect for what I do, so this is something very nice. But of course, most of my followers are in Jordan: 50 percent.”

Despite the pride he takes in his work, he described the experience of being recognized for his social media influence as occasionally “quite annoying here. Very irritating. Because I'm not playing a role of an influencer. Because I'm not playing a role of a celebrity or Brad Pitt."

Odat explained that people regularly follow him around Amman, or come up to him and ask for selfies. His confession was substantiated when three girls shyly approached him requesting a picture during his interview with Jordan News.

He obliged, of course, as the trite encounters have become all too customary.

Trying to provide value
For Bataineh, the idea that people might start to see him as a social media figure first and a doctor second is also bothersome. He doesn't want to be taken as a public figure or be pigeonholed into an influencer category.

"I see that on social media personalities. They start off, you know, serious, and then you get dragged into (other content) because that's where the likes are, that's where the engagement is, and you kind of subconsciously go towards that and that does have an effect on me, just like everybody else, but I try to not do that,” he said.

“Every time I do something on social media, I try to think 'is this providing any kind of value or not?' If it's not, I try to minimize that kind of posting. But you know, I am human. It affects me just like it affects everyone else."

Along with being a practicing doctor, Bataineh is also the chief medical officer of a British startup called Span Health. Span Health is a health care application that focuses on the prevention of diseases through nutrition and lifestyle changes.

Additionally, he still makes time in his busy schedule to be the presenter of the medical show "Shifra" on Al-Jazeera O2.

"Since COVID-19, I think a lot of doctors have exploded in popularity, and have been getting a lot of attention, and just people in general are paying more attention to medicine. I hope it's a good thing."

For someone who amassed his following in less than two years, Bataineh said he would still leave it all behind once it "ceases to be a hobby."

Odat reiterated that social media is very important – but at the same time, he could leave it all behind and it still wouldn't change the fact that he is a doctor. From a medical perspective, "It's very important because, at the end of the day, it can send a message to millions of people in no time. So your role as a doctor, your role in this, it's very easy, it's simple. For me, it's a 10-second video, and that's just it."

On the other hand, he explained that some elements of his social media career feel frivolous.  "People see social media as money generating and so you'll be an influencer, and people will want to take a picture with you, and this is something that is not important to me,” he said.

However, Odat does recognize and appreciate his influence on prospective medical students. He often receives messages from Tawjihi students — students in their last year of secondary school — telling him that they are studying medicine because of him.

"That feeling is very nice. It's very nice to feel that you are admired, and especially if you've actually made an impact on them through social media," said Odat.

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