Dr. Emily Sullivan, a graduate of USask, is working to dispel misinformation about COVID-19. (Photo: Leslie-Ann Schlosser)

USask unites: The unintentional influencer

At a time when the world was saturated with misinformation, a USask alumna took it upon herself to set the record straight.

By Leslie-Ann Schlosser

It has always been a part of Dr. Emily Sullivan’s (MD’12, MPH’16) personality to help people. You could say it’s in her DNA.

The University of Saskatchewan (USask) alumna has dedicated her life to her profession. She’s committed to her family medicine practice at West Winds medical clinic in Saskatoon, but also spends time at Cornerstone Medical Clinic and sees patients at the Women’s Clinic and Newborn Care Clinic. And if that’s not enough, she works part time with the Saskatchewan Health Authority as well.

Sullivan received her medical degree at USask and also has a master’s degree in public health. The young mother of three juggles it all because she says she loves what she does.

“I enjoy all of it so much, it’s hard not to take on more,” laughs Sullivan.

Dr. Emily Sullivan spends time working at Saskatoon's new Jim Pattison Children Hospital, which is just one of her many roles as a physician. (Photo: Leslie-Ann Schlosser)

When the pandemic started to shake the world, and more specifically Canada, in March 2020, Sullivan immediately wanted to know how she could help. She saw her industry shift overnight, as her clinics started to adapt to telehealth practices.  As many struggled to pivot in a new world, Sullivan began to see a disturbing pattern start to take shape. She noticed there was a lot of misinformation about COVID-19 being published, primarily on social media, that just wasn’t true.

As a medical professional, she immediately wanted to set the record straight. She needed to take action to dispel these myths, so she took to a familiar platform in order to get the correct message out.

On March 24, Sullivan started an Instagram account with the handle: ‘yxe.md.’ Today, the group has more than 5,000 followers.

Sullivan said she started the account for two reason: She felt there was a gap in information being presented and the information that was being presented wasn’t getting to the right audience.

“[There was] information on Facebook and Twitter, and there’s information on the news, but a lot of people mid-30s and under don’t have Facebook or Twitter. They’re on Instagram. I was worried when the pandemic started that there was a big demographic that wasn’t getting important information,” said Sullivan. 

“I wanted to be a source of actual information that was legit and people could turn to.” 

It started slowly, with Sullivan posting a few images a day. The information she shares is always pertinent to COVID-19 and covers a wide range of topics. It includes tips to flatten the curve, how to social distance properly and what to do if you contract COVID-19. It also focuses on information on how you can help communities hit by outbreaks, among many other topics.

Every day, one of Sullivan’s medical students dutifully reports the new COVID-19 cases and statistics in Saskatchewan and the world.

The followers on the account started to increase as the Saskatoon and Saskatchewan community started to become aware of it and see it as a reliable source of information.

Never in her wildest dreams did Sullivan expect to garner this much attention. She notes that Instagram is a business platform; many people create accounts to get likes and followers and in turn, sell ads and make a profit. This was never her intention, and she makes no monetary income from running the account. She was, and continues to be, dedicated to providing her audience with up-to-date information about staying safe.

Today, Sullivan is continuing to focus on the account, along with all of her other responsibilities. While the initial hysteria and pandemic conspiracy theories have quieted down since March, Sullivan said there is always new information or questions that need answers. She vows to continue posting information on her account until the pandemic is over.

“So much has changed [since March]. I get questions from patients, friends and family about going back to school, about decreasing social circles. I continue on. I feel we need it,” said Sullivan. “It helps when I see comments with people saying thank you for the update."

She encourages other doctors and health-care professionals to follow in her footsteps

“Get out on social media and be a voice of true information and a voice of science,” encourages Sullivan. “Be a voice to your community, in addition to your patients.”

Her mission remains the same as when she started the account, she encourages the community to stay safe, persevere, ask questions, and be mindful of their neighbours. Above all, Sullivan is certain we will come out safely on the other side.

“The misinformation can lead you down a negative train of thought,” said Sullivan. “I think the more factual information and scientific information is hopeful to me. When I read about vaccine progress and how reopening plans have successes in other countries, I feel hopeful. There are ways to deal with it and it’s not going to be forever. We’ll make it out the other side and we can do it well and safely.”

Share your stories with us: We are collecting the stories of resilience and good spirit from our USask community. Please send story ideas and photos to news@usask.ca.

As a community it is critical that we support each other and remain respectful during what is a difficult time for all of us. Please follow all guidelines and take all precautions to prevent the further spread of COVID-19 in our community.

How you can help our students during the COVID-19 pandemic: https://alumni.usask.ca/news/2020/covid-19-how-you-can-help-our-students.php

For the latest developments and information about the University of Saskatchewan's response to COVID-19, please go to covid19.usask.ca/.

The University of Saskatchewan is undertaking critical research and contributing to global efforts to combat COVID-19. The University of Saskatchewan's Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO-InterVac) is a world leader in developing vaccines and technologies to combat infectious diseases. Your support of the COVID-19 Research Fund supports the increased efforts of researchers at the University of Saskatchewan to develop vaccines and treatments for COVID-19. Donate now.