Two weeks ago, Rose Marie Leslie, MD, would probably have told you that her most famous moment of 2019 was winning a blue ribbon at the Minnesota State Fair for her special honey vinaigrette. But, this “local celebrity chef” earned a new title this month - TikTok’s (unofficial) healthcare expert - when her medical advice on the dangers of vaping went viral on social media.

For this second-year resident at the University of Minnesota Medical School, it’s been a busy couple of weeks. Leslie posted a video in mid-September on TikTok, a video-based social media platform, that compared two different lung X-rays, demonstrating the life-threatening impact of the new vaping disease.

“That’s a pretty gnarly chest X-ray, and I would not want to have that disease,” Leslie says in the video.

Within hours, the video had been viewed by hundreds of thousands of people, and today, she’s earned a new following of more than 206,000 users. National media caught wind of her unique approach in educating teens and young adults on the disease, leading to exclusive interviews with Rolling Stone, Good Morning America, ABC and more.

“The piece that hasn’t quite yet been figured out about this new disease is how do we get this message to the people who need it the most?” Leslie said. “A lot of the TikTok audience is made up of adolescents and young adults, and maybe they don’t get a lot of health information from their homes or schools, and they’re yearning for more. I started posting more and more of it, and it took off from there.”

It’s all part of her passion for health education, which started early and has been at the center of her career so far. A young Leslie, who grew up in Minneapolis, joined “Teen Talk,” a youth health education program where she was a teen peer educator. While earning her undergraduate degree at the University of Puget Sound, she spent her summers volunteering at a clinic based in the Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis, called Teenage Medical Services, which serves young adults between the ages of 12 and 22. 

Dr. Rose Marie Leslie

Leslie returned to her hometown to work as an HIV health educator for two years at La Clinica, which is part of West Side Community Health Services in St. Paul, before applying to the Medical School to study family medicine.

Today, Leslie shares residency between the University of Minnesota Physicians Broadway Family Medicine Clinic, serving as a primary care physician, and North Memorial Hospital where she helps manage the labor and delivery floor and the family medicine in-patient medicine service. 

Leslie is also one of the first participants in the Medical School’s Family Medicine Resident Advocacy Training Program where she says, “We receive training together on how to talk to a legislator, how to review healthcare policy, how to spread public health messages and how to connect with community members and policymakers regarding healthcare and topics that are important to us.”

Put simply, sharing important healthcare advice and discoveries is a part of Leslie’s character and everyday lifestyle. So, what does that mean for her newly grown TikTok audience? She says the platform will be part of her future plans to continue blending health advocacy, social justice and providing quality care to the patients she serves in Minnesota.

“I want to keep the fun and creative aspect of it, but I want to also keep finding topics that are important and relevant to the demographic that uses TikTok,” she said. “One of my next topics will be on the HPV vaccine. It’s relevant to adolescents, and it has some misconceptions about it. I feel like this will be a really good space to advocate for this cancer-preventing vaccine.”