Dr Vanisi Prescott has always loved supporting young people, and now, she’s connecting with youth in the most Generation Z type of way – through her popular videos on TikTok.
The Auckland GP, who is in her third year of the General Practice Education Programme, says her first foray into TikTok was for a dance video with her 12-year-old daughter. From there, she decided to start her own channel to inspire young people and share her journey.
“I want youth to know that it’s so important to chase your dreams,” she says. “I had some challenges growing up, I had a bad time in high school and was told I would never get anywhere. But it motivated me to be better and prove to myself and others that I could achieve things and go to university.”
In one candid video, Vanisi mentions growing up with a struggling single mum, being bullied as a child and going to school most days without lunch. The video has since had 51,800 views.
“I was in two minds about putting that one up, but then I thought, ‘why not?’ It’s real, and so many things are superficial these days. I’ve been asked to give talks in schools, and I’ve spoken with a lot of students, and many of them have said to me, ‘I thought only rich kids could be doctors, but your family is like mine.’ It’s a big thing to open up about your life, but if it inspires other people, then that’s great.”
The Tongan-born GP also uses the social media platform to share health messages and to encourage people to get their COVID-19 vaccinations and says she still can’t believe how popular her videos have become.
When she’s not being a TikTok star, Vanisi splits her time between work at a suburban Auckland medical centre, and a day a week as the on-site doctor at Mt Roskill Grammar School.
After graduating from the University of Auckland School of Medicine, the mum-of-three began her career in urgent care. But she soon decided her heart was in general practice.
“I love that as a GP you can get to know your patients over time, understand them and follow up with them,” she says. “It’s not just a one-stop shop, you’re building relationships with people. I also have a lot of special interests, like youth health, sexual health and cancer care, and being a GP lets me combine all of these interests at once.”
Juggling work and study is a challenge, but she says the General Practice Education Programme has been a great support along the way.
“The programme is very structured, which I really like. In our group we study together and help each other, and we’ve all become good friends.”
For Vanisi, an important part of being a GP is promoting Pasifika health, connecting with people from the culture and infusing Tongan values into her work.
“Health literacy is a major issue in the Pasifika community. I wanted to get into medicine to help people and be a voice for our people. In Tonga, respect, love, and care for others is important, and I treat all my patients as if they are my family.”