How to use Instagram for PA Advocacy

During the past Canadian PA Conference in Ottawa, Ontario, I was invited to speak about leveraging social media to advance the PA profession.  I included a lot of examples of using Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. After sitting down, one of my former classmates turned to me and mentioned, “that was amazing, I didn’t know 90% of the content you just presented.”  Bingo!

Here I elaborate a little more about how to use one specific platform – Instagram – and how you can use that for advocacy in health care.

If you’re interested in using social media for PA advocacy, a good rule to start off with is to pick 1 or 2 social media platforms that you are comfortable with and create a PA only account, that is set to “public”. Public posts have greater potential to reach more people than a post to a private Facebook or Instagram account that includes your close friends and family. There are several steps you can take to protect your privacy (e.g. using an alias as a name, don’t post photos of yourself, etc.) while still promoting the PA profession. Don’t use instagram, unless you are already a regular user – or if you enjoy taking photos, and don’t mind trying a new social media platform to advocate for the PA profession.

Why Use Instagram?

People go on instagram because they want to see photos, there’s incredible simplicity in that. You can also write captions for the photos and have some conversation over instagram but you usually don’t have lengthy conversations in the instagram comments section. You can also save photos to a private book marked area to view for later.

  • Creative & Visual Storytelling: “A picture is worth a thousand words”, and visuals can be powerful way to users to express themselves and to engage an audience. It’s become an excellent medium for artists (photographers, poets, painters, etc.) to share their art and go big.
    • Sharing Art: Rupi Kaur, was a first-time poet, unheard of who became a New York Times Best Seller, largely because of the huge following she amassed on social media. She started by sharing her poems on Instagram, and her creative expressions resonated with a large audience that followers came in droves – she is now up to 1.8 million followers.
    • Canadian Med student Alina runs @coffeeandanatomy, which is an aesthetically beautiful “med student lifestyle” instagram feed. Her photos are picturesque, white and clean .. consistently. This is known as “branding” on instagram, an important concept for marketing companies. Not too important when you’re just starting out on instagram.

      Coffee and anatomy has excellent visual branding and aesthetic of her instagram feed.

  • Documentation
    • To share Snippets of everyday life that they can look back on later, similar to a “photo journal”. Typically I see Instagram users who are PA students share photos of their study sessions, study notes, participation in PA advocacy, a meal after a particularly long call shift,  a medical quote, a funny meme about the medicine/learning experience.
  • Inspiration: Some of my favorite accounts to follow align with my interests, accounts that share: baking ideas, healthy meals, nature/photography, travel, etc. Some PAs opt to share helpful medical textbooks, useful tools, or efforts they’ve made in PA advocacy recently (for PA Day in Canada and #PAWeek in the US!).

    Account @canadapas highlights Canadian PAs and PA students

    I shared a photo from our PA Lobby Day in Ontario to demonstrate Ontario PAs speaking with politicians to influence change and make an impact on healthy care policy. With the goal of inspiring other PAs to do the same.

  • For Community: Although there’s no such thing as “Instagram” groups, people find others with similar interests and experiences through hashtags (e.g. #CanadaNeedsPAs #PhysicianAssistants) and comment on each other’s posts – offering feedback and support.

    Humans of New York has a facebook and instagram, and is a post that shares stories from everyday citizens in New York.

  • Seeing “Behind the Scenes”: A lot of the PA accounts I follow show a lot of the “Behind the Scenes” Of what it is like to be a PA or PA student. It’s educational and informative, and humanizes the PA profession.
    • Orthopaedic Surgery Fellow Adrian Huang runs @scrubbedout which is a funny look “behind the scenes” , life as a Orthopaedic Trauma Fellow.

      @scrubbedout is an Orthopaedic Trauma Fellow who posts fun instagram posts, creating a sense of shared experience amongst others in the medical field and inspiration.

Who Uses Instagram? 

The majority of people that follow @canadianpajourney on Instagram are between the ages of 15 and 35 (many millenials!). My target audience on instagram tends to be other Practicing Physician Assistants and Pre-PA students who are contemplating the PA profession as well as allied health students and practitioners.

How frequently should I post? 

Ultimately you can post as often or as little as you want. A good rule is to focus on quality rather than quantity of posts. Generally Facebook posting is a few times per week or month, twitter is a few times per day, and instagram.. is a a few times or less per week. The most interaction a post on twitter gets is usually within the first hour of posting, with occasionally retweets and activities for a few days. Due to how frequently everyone posts on twitter the post can easily get buried unless posted by your followers. Instagram is a little bit less often.

How can PAs & PA Students use Instagram?

How can Instagram be used in health care and for Physician Assistants? 

Many businesses and health care institutions are recognizing the power of Instagram. Many Canadian health care organizations (e.g. Sunnybrook, Ryerson Nurse Practitioner Program)  and hospitals are on Instagram and use it inform and educate.

If you’re creating a dedicated Instagram account for PA advocacy, here are some things you can post:

  • Advocacy for the PA Profession
    • Answer many frequently asked questions about PAs
    • Debunk myths about the PA profession
    • Provide overview of PA profession in your posts (e.g. what PAs do and don’t do)
    • Repost PA infographics to your instagram feed
  • Building a Community
    • Follow and comment on posts hashtags such as #CanadaNeedsPAs #PhysicianAssistants #prePA and #CanadianPA
    • Post your PA posts using the hashtags above so others with similar interests can find you
    • Posting funny, relatable memes, quotes or images about the medical profession (best to go non-offensive, politically neutral)
  • Inspiration / Show “Behind the scenes” of practice and education
    • Posting about PA studies, classes, study notes, teaching, workshops, and conference photos.
    • Posting from time to time about your interests outside of clinical work; show that PAs are human too!
  • Medical Education
    • Careful with posting patient cases* always abide by PHIPA guidelines and maintain patient confidentiality!
    • Posting helpful pathophysiology diagrams, medical illustrations

HOW TO: The Basics of Instagram for PAs

1. Sign up for Instagram, and decide on a username (also known as Instagram Handle)

  • Examples: whether its “@CanadianCCPA, @AnneCCPA, @AnneThePA, @TheOrthoPA, @theCanadianERpa, @studydiaryofaPA” (of course replace “Anne” with your name)
  • If you want to maintain privacy, pick a generic username that lets users know you are a PA / health care provider

2. Set your name

  • If you decide to include your real name (first name and middle name, first & last name, just first name) be sure to include PA Student, or CCPA to indicate you area PA.
  • Otherwise if you want to maintain privacy, pick a name that is descriptive enough to identify that you are a PA (e.g. “A PA in Emergency Medicine”, “A 2nd Year Canadian PA Student”)

3. Pick a Profile Picture

  • If you want to maintain privacy, pick a generic photo of a stethoscope, nature landscape, etc. Otherwise include a nice headshot

4. Include a link in your Bio for readers to learn more

  • If you have a blog, link to that. If you don’t feel free to link to the CAPA website ( or Facebook Page. It’s a great way to visitors can go and learn more about the PA profession.

5. Determine your goals with the account, and set your Instagram Account Description:

  • Are your goals to:
    • Inspire and Educate Pre-PA students?
    • Demonstrate “Behind the Scenes”?
    • Feature “PAs at work?”
    • Exemplify how PAs can change health care?
    • Share helpful Medical Education Posts?
    • Share your Journey to Becoming a PA?
    • Share your Life after PA school?
    • Humanize the PA profession?
    • etc.
  • I don’t agonize over number of likes simply because the number isn’t very meaningful – my goal is about impact and seeing people take action. I’ll check in to see if followers are growing each week, I’ll get messages with great questions about the PA profession, and I check to see if my posts are helping to drive traffic and interest to the PA program websites (as well as my blog!).

6. Share your First Post (and use hashtags)!

  • Upload a picture, add a filter (optional), a caption and some hashtags.
  • Hashtags that we encourage Canadian PAs to use include: #CanadaNeedsPAs #CanadianPA #canadianhealthcare #canada #PhysicianAssistants #PrePA. Be sure to hashtag the city you are posting from as well.

7. Follow Other Canadian PA Instagram Accounts

Tip: Separate your personal & professional life on Instagram

I like to keep my personal and professional lives separate.

My personal instagram account contains photos of travels, funny animal gifs/videos, as well as photos from events with friends and family (lots of food photos!). That account is private and I control who I get to share these photos with.

My professional instagram account is at @canadianpablog. I like to use it as extension of my blog and PA advocacy efforts. You’ll notice there aren’t a ton of photos of just myself, but of my peers, and other PAs in action.

Here is a screenshot of my personal and professional instagram account. I’ve blurred out my username on the personal account to maintain privacy.

Advanced Tip: Schedule your Instagram Posts

I use a special tool called Planoly, which is free (but there are paid versions of the plan too) that allows you to use your desktop and upload your Instagram photos ahead of time. You also have to download the Planoly app to your phone as well so that you can post it to your instagram account at the same time.

A screenshot of the Instagram Scheduler Planoly

Tip for Pre-PA Students

Although presence of Canadian PAs is growing, American PAs have a HUGE presence on social media (instagram, twitter, FB.. it goes on). This includes a large number of PA students who give advice about PA admissions. Although the target is American Pre-PA students, some their advice on interviews, personal statements, reference letters is very helpful. Start by searching hashtag #prepa to find some of those accounts to follow!

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