Dr Vanisi Prescott has always wanted to be a voice for her family and her community, and now, she’s a GP and TikTok sensation with a following of over 75k fans.
Born in Tokomololo, Tonga, Vanisi moved to New Zealand with her mother at the age of one and was raised in Auckland where she completed all her schooling and is now married with three beautiful children.
"Since childhood I’ve always dreamed of becoming a doctor but never thought it would happen." As a child, her GP was a Pacific female "I would just sit there and admire her, hoping to one day be just like her."
Growing up with English as a second language and her mother being a single parent they struggled financially. She watched her mother work long hours and multiple jobs at once "one thing she taught me was to get a good job or a profession so that I didn’t have to work as hard as she did or have to rely on anyone."
It was this work ethic and perseverance that motivated Vanisi "she is my inspiration and the reason I am who I am today" and now she is working as a GP in Auckland.
"What also inspired me to pursue this career path was the need for more Pacific clinicians to help our people and to be a voice for my family and our community. "
We caught up with Vanisi to get her advice on mental health and wellbeing, find out more about her brush with burnout, and get advice for other doctors looking to grow a TikTok following.
Have you ever experienced burnout, if yes, can you tell me a bit about it and how you got through it?
Yes, I have and it is not a good place to be.
My first year in the GP program would’ve been the toughest year I have ever experienced. I worked full-time, studied full-time, and had my family and other commitments. At the time I thought I was fine, able to cope, but it wasn’t until the end of the year when other personal issues happened which then hit me. I realised at that point I was overdoing it and needed to take a break. I am the main breadwinner in our family and being self employed didn’t help because it meant I couldn’t take time off otherwise I wouldn’t get paid. It became so bad, I got to the point where I was no longer myself anymore, I had no motivation to go into work and I dreaded working. I had self–doubt and lack of confidence and this really started to impact on my mental health and my interactions with my patients.
When it got this far I knew I needed help, being a Christian I had my minister/mentor guide me and pray for me. I also made contact with a counsellor and was taught some coping strategies. I made contact with the GP College and also discussed this with my supervisor and employer. I also took time off. Following that year, I decreased my hours and took my breaks in between patients.
Despite being a tough year, I have had amazing support and learnt so much which I am grateful for and since making some minor adjustments, I am at a much happier place and I am really enjoying being a GP. This has opened a lot of opportunities for me and I cannot wait to see what the future will bring.
What do you do to look after yourself and your own mental health and wellbeing?
I talk to a lot of people (family, friends, church family and Minister) and I make sure to take time out when I need it. I pray a lot for guidance and help either alone or with my family which really helps.
But I have also learnt the importance of self-care and in particular learning to say ‘No’ when I know I have too much going on, which I wasn’t able to do previously. I also set boundaries when seeing patients and ensure I don’t overwork myself and take regular breaks when I am meant to.
Other things I enjoy doing are dancing and making videos on TikTok, hang out with friends or family and go to the gym regularly. Sometimes I prefer to just stay in my room or have ‘me’ time by reading a book or watching a Netflix series or movie to get my mind off things.
Your Instagram features inspirational and motivational messages and you have a significant amount of followers. What inspired you to start this account and to start sharing these things?
I really only started this account to keep in contact with close family and friends, however overtime after seeing so much negativity on social media, I just wanted to share a lot more positivity. I also know a lot of people struggle with self image or believing in themselves to be better or to chase their dreams, so my goal was to help inspire those who were in my shoes to do exactly that, chase your dreams, have a positive mindset and don’t let anyone deter you. Self confidence and motivation is key. Resilience taught me a great deal and I just wanted to be able to share that experience with everyone.
You have accumulated quite a large social media following (5k on Instagram and 70k+ on TikTok, what is it like being looked to as an influencer doctor?
Pretty unreal but also really exciting. I get a lot of patients who I see in clinic say ‘I loved your TikTok video’ or ‘I follow you on TikTok’ ‘You’re the TikTok doctor’. It’s pretty amazing to know a lot of people are inspired by my journey and how it’s encouraging them to chase their dreams.
How is the health information you share on your platforms received?
Depends on what type of health information, if It is general medical advice people appreciate that. If it is about Covid-19 I get mixed messages. I had a lot of backlash when I was talking about the vaccine and it’s effectiveness, I had to deal with a lot of hate and negativity but I quickly brushed that off and continued to do it because I knew it was going to benefit everyone in the long run. Whether people choose to take the information or not is up to them but those that were accepting the information were appreciative of it which I was grateful for.
Technology platforms like TikTok and Instagram allow you to spread positive messaging and health literacy to a much larger audience than ever before. How do you think this is changing the face of health care?
It really is, over these last few years social media has become the main source of information, especially our younger generations. In a way it’s been great at being able to share information and promote health but also distressing for some when there is misinformation being shared via these social media platforms. In terms of health care I feel being on these social media platforms just allows other forms of communication in a fun and interactive way especially for those who don't seek medical advice, being able to normalise seeing a doctor and reduce any fears people may have.
Do you have any tips for other doctors who may be wanting to grow a social following or start a TikTok account?
Do it! Give it a go. You don’t need to be dancer, you just need to have the right information and way of communicating it that will appeal to a wider audience. Honestly it would be so helpful to have a lot more doctors on these platforms especially if we are wanting to promote health. This would be a great way to reach out to a wider audience especially our younger population, most vulnerable and Maori and Pacific peoples.