She works in big hospitals in the US, talks taboo health topics with her 2 million followers and wrangles four children. Now, big-time doctor influencer Danielle Jones is taking a job at Southland Hospital, writes Alanah Eriksen.
Marching down a hospital corridor in her scrubs, camera on selfie mode with Megan Thee Stallion's Sex Talk song playing, the doctor poses the question to her followers.
"Condom broke … now what?"
Take Plan B (aka, the morning-after pill) within three days, she says, which can be up to 95 per cent effective, but if you don't get a period in two weeks, call your doctor.
The simple video has so far racked up 13 million views on TikTok - where users are predominantly teenagers and young adults - and is the work of outspoken American medical influencer Dr Danielle Jones, aka Mama Doctor Jones.
By day, she's delivering babies and treating pregnant women as a locum obstetrician gynaecologist at various US hospitals, but in her spare time, Jones is in front of the camera talking sex and reproductive issues.
Across YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter she has more than 2 million followers and she's part of a growing list of medical professionals whose side hustle brings their health knowledge to the masses. New Zealand already has a few, including midwives Katie Hawkey and Carmen Lett and anaesthetist Dr Morgan Edwards.
Jones, 35, uses her platforms to answer uncomfortable questions ("is vaginal discharge normal"), clear up medical misinformation ("Covid-19 vaccination does not cause infertility"), and do demonstrations ("how to place a tampon painlessly" - using a plastic bottle).
She was recently on Ryan Seacrest's radio show talking about whether Covid vaccines will cause long-term menstrual changes (spoiler, they don't).
And her recent tweet calling out actress Kirstie Alley went viral. The US actress had written that her generation had had "zero public sex talk and zero sex education" and that "now with all this sex 'education' more girls than ever are getting pregnant and abortion rates are out the roof".
Jones' response? "Actually, teen pregnancy and abortion peaked in the 90s, just like Kirstie Alley". She later added, "next time, google first".
"I think correcting inaccurate health information online is incredibly important, especially with the current state of the world," Jones tells the Herald.
"I often do this solely from a teaching standpoint, but I do like to incorporate humour and sarcasm when it feels like it's appropriate. There are so many bad actors online spreading unreliable or straight-up false information and this leads to negative health consequences for the people I care for every day. If I can keep even one person from making a bad health decision by correcting bad info with facts, I've achieved something beneficial."
Now, Jones is bringing her unique brand (and her husband and four children) from Austin Texas to the end of the world, aka Invercargill New Zealand. Jones has accepted a job at Southland Hospital, where the chief medical officer says they're looking forward to learning from her social media experience.
"We've been told the weather is a bit rainy and cold, which we are equal parts dreading and anticipating coming from Texas where it's been 38C+ most of the summer. We know it's not far from great hiking.
"What's the point of life if you can't occasionally jump into a new adventure with your eyes closed, eh?"
But the journey to get here has faced hurdles, including all six family members contracting Covid-19, and they still have "lots and lots of red tape" to navigate before landing.
'Called into the principal's office' to explain
Jones realises her content is not everyone's cup of tea and she's had mixed feedback from bosses and colleagues.
"Most people saw the benefit in what I was doing early on, but there were definitely some days of being 'called to the principal's office' to explain what social media advocacy meant. Now that most of my platforms are successful and that it's clear I have become a leading source for reliable, accurate, evidence-based health info, I would say the response is 99 per cent positive from patients, employers, colleagues, and prospective employers. My content isn't for everyone and I'm okay with there being some people who either don't get it or don't like it."
Her online presence started with a blog while at medical school in 2009 at Texas Tech University as a creative outlet "which was quite odd at the time".
"Twelve years ago there were not a lot of med students and docs talking about our jobs on the internet."
She became pregnant with her twin daughters, Amelia and Reese, now 8, in her third year of medical school and the balance of being a working mum started. The girls were born about six months before her graduation, five weeks premature, weighing 1.8kg each, requiring a five-day stay in a neonatal intensive care unit.
"I started residency in obstetrics and gynaecology when they were 7 months old and exclusively pumped, breastfed through my intern year, which was quite the feat in such a demanding speciality - so, obviously I'm proud of that achievement."
During the last week of her training, her son Milo, now 5, was born. She started the Mama Doctor Jones brand while working in private practice.
"There were a lot of things that went into this, but mainly, I just enjoyed teaching and connecting, while showing the world you could be an amazing surgeon and mother."
Jones uploaded her first educational YouTube video in January 2019, while on maternity leave with her fourth child, son Pax, now 2. It has become her preferred way to connect.
"It is a great way to provide reliable, empowering health information in a space that has far too long been taboo for people to learn about."
Jones says she does 98 per cent of the social media herself but about a year ago she hired a production manager who runs her Facebook page, assists with video planning, and "just generally keeps me organised".
"I would say, social media is a second full-time job now that I've adopted video content as my preferred method of communicating."
With an audience as big as hers comes brands desperate to collaborate but Jones is picky about who she works with. The aforementioned tampon video was labelled an advertisement with Tampax.
"I occasionally work with brands, but so far have chosen to do mainly the mum side and to not to work with industry - pharma - or medical services for the most part. It's complex and depends on the platform and agreement."
Having Covid was 'absolutely terrifying'
The idea to move to New Zealand was sparked 10 years ago when, pre-children, Jones and her husband visited the North Island and fell in love with the country. They came back with three of their children in 2018 to campervan around the South Island but didn't make it as far as Invercargill.
Last year, the couple put their house on the market, started selling their belongings and making plans for a trip around the world, starting in June in Hawaii, coinciding with a conference she founded for women in medicine called Pinnacle. They would then carry on to Japan, before spending the summer in New Zealand and then making their way across Asia, Africa, Europe and South America until they finally got back to Texas. But Covid-19 had other plans. Their one-way flight tickets to Hawaii were cancelled four days after they purchased them.
"Our twins left public school for spring break in March of 2020 and never got to go back, no goodbyes to their friends or anything."
Instead, Jones started working as a locum in labour and delivery units around Texas.
"Obviously my daily work life has changed drastically. We mask 24/7 at the hospital and our family masks anytime we are in crowds outside or enter a public space. Even my 2-year-old, who was 17 months old when the pandemic started, is a pro at masking now."
Late last year, Jones started getting congested and having headaches but initially put her symptoms down to allergies. Later, while cleaning the bathroom, she was struggling to breathe. Her husband thought she was having an asthma attack, triggered by the strong-smelling cleaning product she had been using.
But Jones told him she couldn't smell it, and then realised it was probably because she had lost her sense of smell, a symptom of Covid-19. Her result was confirmed with a test and her husband then started feeling ill.
Exhaustion followed and Jones described the disease as "way worse than the flu".
"As we were living in a town where we didn't know anyone, we had no one to take the kids and they ended up exposed and infected as well. Luckily, the kiddos were not very sick at all and seem to have done fine. I'm very thankful we all recovered, but it was absolutely terrifying and hard for those weeks, and for me, the months of trouble breathing after."
The family eventually made it to Hawaii in May this year once the island's borders opened. Jones estimates they have lived in about 15 AirBnbs.
The family's lifestyle wouldn't be possible without Jones' "incredibly supportive" husband, a software developer by trade.
"He is a very involved dad and we both love being nomadic and having a big family. He is incredibly intelligent and very good at what he does, though for the past year he has sacrificed for our family to live this lifestyle by homeschooling our four kiddos while we travel."
'Lots and lots of red tape'
Trying to get an obstetrician-gynaecologist in New Zealand is hard enough. But throw in a global pandemic and it's even more challenging.
The occupation is on Immigration New Zealand's skills shortage list. Southern District Health Board chief medical officer, Dr Nigel Millar tells the Herald that when recruiting, local applicants are always considered first but there were only four applicants in total, all from overseas.
Jones is now in the process of getting the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists to approve her medical licence and consultant qualifications.
"The next step will be applying as a family for a work visa under my name," Jones says.
"After we have a visa application, we can apply for MIQ or emergency MIQ and then once approved we can book flights and plan the move, then spend two weeks in a hotel room with four small kiddos. It's a very complex and trying process right now."
She was due to start work in August but the date has been pushed back to September.
"We've run into some red tape with pandemic regulations and everything moving slow so I'm not sure if it'll be October or November now. Hopefully this year."
So what does Jones' boss think about his new employee bringing such a big following to small-town New Zealand? Millar says it is usual for senior doctors to speak publicly about things that relate to their professional experience.
"Society is changing and the traditional medium of newspapers and broadcast media is being added to and in some instances overtaken by social media. It is quite logical and reasonable the health professionals would use this to inform, educate and support the community on important health-related issues. Dr Jones is obviously very experienced and skilled at this.
"We have discussed the use of social media with Dr Jones, noting that it is an element of her practice. No specific limits have been set. Dr Jones is a professional and has an in-depth understanding of how to use social media for health promotion. We are looking forward to learning from her experience."
Southern DHB employees are expected to follow a set of social media guidelines set by the Ministry of Health, he says. They include lines such as, "If you have a gripe at work, try to deal with it in the usual internal way with your manager rather than broadcasting your concerns." And, "Remember search engines never forget; everything you post stays online for a long time. Think before posting something you might regret later".
In her new role, Jones will be undertaking gynaecological surgery, colposcopy, outpatient clinics and obstetrics.
"She has shown interest in joining Southern for several years now, and this position came at the right time for the both of us," Millar says. "She is an enthusiastic and patient-centred individual who we believed would be a great member of our team."
The Joneses are hoping three of their children will be able to be vaccinated before they come to the country - Pfizer and Moderna have expanded studies to include children aged between 5 and 11.
"We are so incredibly thankful for vaccinations, even though it's been a tough road to convince many of my patients, friends, family to get them. We are very excited for the potential to get our kiddos vaccinated soon."
When the family get here, Jones hopes to enrol three of her children in a local school and her husband plans to work while here.
"As a web developer he has lots of skills that are very beneficial to my social media presence, so the plan is to delve into some ObGyn, period, pregnancy web and app development for the MDJ brand."
Despite living and working in some big cities and hospitals — particularly in Austin — Jones is used to small towns. She was born in Borger, a tiny town in Texas (population 13,251 compared with Invercargill's 57,000).
They haven't yet found accommodation but will likely find a hotel or rental for a month or two before finding a long-term living situation.
The Southland town's weather will be a big adjustment with Texas temperatures currently reaching 40C.
"But the kids are really looking forward to going back to school, especially Milo, who should start kindergarten [the first year of primary school] soon and I'm looking forward to them being able to have a bit more normalcy."