Getting to know Dr Sindi van Zyl, one of the most accessible doctors on Twitter

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Dr Sindi van Zyl says social media has demystified medicine
Dr Sindi van Zyl says social media has demystified medicine

South Africans spend a good few hours a day on their phones. If they are not scrolling through Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for a sneak peak at their favourite celebrities and their lives, they are googling symptoms and diagnosing themselves.

This is why Dr Sindi van Zyl provides an essential service on social media. The physician has made herself available to ordinary South Africans on social media.

She does threads on medical topics her followers ask her for information on and when it is not her area of expertise, she tags a relevant specialist to give their opinion. 

She speaks to Drum about why she believes the work she does on social media is important. When she first joined Twitter she used to complain about the health sector, she says.

“I joined Twitter in February 2011 and I used to complain about the public health care sector a lot. Nyakallo Lephoto reached out to me and said that it would be better for me to rather educate people than complain all the time. That was an A-Ha moment for me and that's when I changed my tweeting style.”

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She says this new approach helped to demystify medicine because suddenly medical information was available online.  She also says she does not mind when other medical doctors have a difference of opinion on topics which she tackles.

“All I want is for people to be able to make informed decisions about their health. You must leave a consultation with a medical doctor or a nurse clinician satisfied that all your concerns have been dealt with. It's teamwork. I believe that Medical Twitter has changed many lives and made people more comfortable with discussing matters with their doctors or nurse clinicians.

“There is nothing wrong with disagreeing. It's good to disagree and hear each other out. It must just be done respectfully - because everyone is watching. The HPCSA Health Professions Council of South Africa has very clear guidelines about the way we have to conduct ourselves online. We need to keep those guidelines in mind and act accordingly.”

While there are limitations in terms of how much can be done online, she says she has been able to help a lot of people who have not been able to leave their homes because of lockdown.

She doesn't only tweet about medicine, she also speaks about how she sometimes struggles to park, her dreams of one day driving a Mercedes Benz as well as her love for perfume and Louis Vuitton bags.

“It's just who I am. What you see on the TL is very close to what I am in real-life. I love luxury (even though I can't always afford it but one day is one day). It's only now that I see how my openness has helped people to trust me. But to be honest I'm just being myself.”

Social media has made practicing medicine more enjoyable, Dr Sindi says.

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“I love it when patients Google stuff and come in and speak about what they Googled. Or if they come in and say something about what they saw me doing with the Caramellos (her children) on the TL. It's like an ice-breaker before we get into the formal consultation.”

Dr Singi was born in Zimbabwe and says would definitely return there to work and adds that her kind heart is what directed her to medicine.

“I wanted to help people. I have a very loving and generous heart and being a medical doctor helps me to express that to its fullest.”

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