Making friends online

Pediatrician Elizabeth Donner created a space online for sharing health advice and combatting misinformation.
January 21, 2022
Liz Donner

Liz Donner (B.S. Biology, ’11) received a 2021 American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Early Career Physicians Award for Excellence in Education for her efforts to build an online community through My Friend the Pediatrician. The platform provides evidence-based information relating to children’s health. Dr. Donner shared her perspective on building community online, navigating the pandemic and more.

When did you know you wanted to be a doctor? 
My road to becoming a doctor began back in high school when I discovered a love for science. I thought Biology was the coolest subject ever, and I chose my college major accordingly. Throughout my undergraduate years, I explored multiple facets of science including nursing, biochemistry, and laboratory science. The thought of becoming a physician felt so extraordinarily out of reach at first, but I wanted to push the limits of my potential by giving it a try. I took the MCAT and passed! From there, it was really about growing my personal aspirations, discovering a love for pediatrics, and simply taking the journey one day at a time. 

How has the pandemic affected your practice? 
I work as a pediatric hospitalist, so the onset of the pandemic was full of uncertainty and chaos. We were unprepared, and we had to adapt quickly. Even now, the patient census continues to fluctuate up and down in waves, and maintaining appropriate staffing ratios is a struggle. The social climate surrounding healthcare and medicine has become even more heated and tenuous than before. I try to focus on simply showing up and doing what I was trained to do, which is looking out for the best interests of my patients and their families in the most resourceful yet effective ways possible. 

What inspired you to use social media as a platform for sharing healthcare information?
Looking back, there were three main driving factors behind the decision to expand my professional career into the world of social media. One, I came to realize that online healthcare misinformation abounds and has the potential to be extremely confusing and dangerous. Two, I felt this widening social-emotional gap between not only patient and provider but also just human beings in general. Lastly, I’ve really grown fond of the “less is more” mentality throughout my medical training, and I wanted to share my resource-sparing healthcare tips with the world. My goal is to combat misinformation, rekindle the relationship between patient and provider, and keep healthy kids out of medical harm’s way by providing practical, evidence-based information that parents and other caregivers can trust. 

What have you learned through the experience?
Through my online experience, I’ve gained an incredible amount of perspective. The platform allows for a diverse constellation of people to collectively learn, discuss, share stories, ask questions, and provide personal insight. I now see the patient and family perspective in ways that I never had before, which ultimately fosters true understanding, empathy, and mutual trust. Don’t get me wrong; delving into the world of healthcare on social media certainly comes with its fair share of frustration and distress. One must quickly learn to navigate hostility while maintaining a sense of purpose and professionalism. At the end of the day, however, I’ve learned that my audience and I both have the same goal in mind, which is safeguarding the health of children. 

What’s your advice to those interested in a career in healthcare and/or pediatrics?
You have to truly want to be a part of it! The path to becoming a pediatric hospitalist took thirteen years, and my student loan debt exceeds $200k. There are definitely easier ways to make money, so that should never be the primary motivator. A lot of time is spent behind a computer screen. You need to have a strong backbone as well, because there will always be that facet of society that casts a lot of doubt and criticism upon the field of medicine. However, with the right mindset and pure intentions, it can be extremely rewarding. I get to tap into some of the most intimate, scary, exciting moments of a person’s entire life. My friends and family are genuinely proud of me. Above all, being granted the opportunity to positively impact the lives of others every single day is an absolute pleasure. 

What are your favorite things to do around Orlando?
Here in Orlando, my husband and I love taking trips to the beach, exploring breweries, hanging out with our dog, boating along the Gulf of Mexico, and lounging in the pool. Having been born and raised in the midwest, I very much appreciate the weather down here in sunny Florida. I never have a hard time getting our family and friends down south for a visit, either!