Wait, How Did My Dermatologist Become TikTok-Famous?

Photo: courtesy of Dr. Joyce Park.
One particular type of beauty influencer that excites and delights me is the TikTok dermatologist. There's an entire niche community of licensed derms who, when they're not seeing patients, post knowledgeable commentary on skin-care trends, explaining why you should never use period blood as an at-home face mask when it comes up on your For You.

Dr. Joyce Park, MD isn't my official derm — she lives in Seattle and I'm in New York — but we recently met and I was fascinated by her career pivot: from clinical dermatology (the traditional route to take following five years of medical school and three years of residency) to influencing. Ahead, Dr. Joyce chronicles her path, which helps explain the rise of The TikTok Derm — and the money in it.
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The following interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Refinery29: How did you know you wanted to be a dermatologist?
Dr. Joyce Park: I spent the first two years of medical school doing ophthalmology research. After completing a gap year in medical journalism as a Stanford Global Health Media Fellow, I came back to my clinical rotations and discovered, to my surprise and disappointment, that I did not enjoy ophthalmology as a field. A mentor suggested that I try a rotation in dermatology, and I absolutely fell in love.
I found the field very intellectually stimulating; I enjoy variety, so I loved that I could see patients in clinic, operate to remove skin cancers and other growths, perform cosmetic and laser procedures, and see adults and children, all in the same day. Patients are highly motivated to treat their skin conditions, and it brings me joy to watch my patients' confidence soar as their skin improves. Two months after that first day in dermatology clinic, I applied into dermatology residency, and matched at NYU.
Photo: Courtesy of Dr. Joyce Park.
How long was your education? 
4 years college (Stanford), 5 years medical school (Stanford + 1 year gap year as a medical journalism fellow), 1 year internship at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, 3 years dermatology residency at NYU.
What was the cost of that education?
$130k for college, $213k for medical school. (I actually dug back in my tuition excel spreadsheet for this!)
How did you begin on social media? When did it become lucrative?
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My gap year as a Stanford Global Health media fellow took me all over the world, from working in the communications department at WHO headquarters in Geneva to being embedded in the medical unit at NBC News in NYC. Part of the requirement of my fellowship was to "learn social media."
My fellowship director gave me a virtual home on the Stanford global health website and asked me to blog about my experiences throughout the year. A few years later, I moved my blog to my own domain, www.teawithmd.com — a name my teenage brother came up with. In medical school, Tea with MD was more of a creative outlet for me to write about the struggles of medical school. Then, as I became a dermatology resident, social media became a mix of personal and business.

"Part of the requirement of my fellowship was to 'learn social media.'"

I received my first brand deal when I was fresh out of residency training, before I started work as an attending. The brand found me organically on social media and reached out. I don't even remember the brand or the amount exactly, but I believe it was a skin-care brand that paid me a few hundred dollars to share an IG story of me using their products.
Photo: Courtesy of Dr. Joyce Park.
When did you decide to pull time from your dermatology practice to grow your social presence?
In 2020, the demand for dermatologists on social media skyrocketed. I was between jobs and also at home with a young baby, and I decided to partner with a few brands that I already organically use myself and recommend to my patients. When I found my next job, I decided to work part-time, mostly so I could spend more time at home with my son, and also continue building my social media business. Now I work for myself, so I can control my schedule completely.
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How has the advent of TikTok as a platform changed your work? 
I can't remember the last time I posted a photo on social media! I remember downloading the platform in early 2020, feeling overwhelmed, and immediately uninstalling it. Then I gave it another try a few weeks later. I made a video about acne and diet and it went viral, with over 10 million views in one day. I thought, Wow, this platform is powerful, and can help me get science-backed, evidence-based skincare information out there! I've been having too much fun on TikTok since.
Now, I post 90% short form videos as opposed to photos. I also revived my YouTube channel a few months ago.

In 2020, the demand for dermatologists on social media skyrocketed.

Photo: Courtesy of Dr. Joyce Park.
How much did you make as a full-time practicing dermatologist? And how much can one make on social media alone?
As a full time practicing dermatologist — working 5 days a week, fresh out of residency — I was making about $450k annually. This number can fluctuate depending on number of days per week worked, number of patients seen, types of cases completed (medical versus cosmetic versus surgical), practice location, and more.
Dermatologists on social media can make variable amounts depending on factors such as platforms they are on, reach, engagement, services offered, etc. I have heard anything from 5 figures all the way up to 7 figures.
What does your balance of time look like today, seeing patients versus doing social?
I just launched my own virtual dermatology practice, Skin Refinery! I'm currently accepting patients in Washington and California for conditions such as acne, melasma, rosacea, skincare-regimen creation, and more. I love that I can set my own hours and have the flexibility of it being one-hundred percent virtual.
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For example: just this week alone, I saw patients, edited research papers with my medical students, attended committee meetings for the American Academy of Dermatology, traveled to NYC with a skin-care brand and attended PR events, shot content for Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube, and continued to set up a lot of back-office operations for my clinic.

Many people try to send me photos to get consultations over Instagram, but I do not open any of them because legally, I cannot give medical advice over the Internet.

Do you see your followers as an extension of your patients?
I don't actually; I keep a clear boundary between my followers and my patients. Many people try to send me photos to get consultations over Instagram, but I do not open any of them because legally, I cannot give medical advice over the Internet. My medical malpractice only extends to my patients at Skin Refinery, so I do not have a doctor-patient relationship with anyone outside of my practice. PSA: Please do not send me photos or ask me for personalized medical advice on social media. If you really want my advice, please make an appointment through skinrefinery.co!
What’s your advice for people on TikTok looking for skin-care tips — trying to avoid misinformation?
Please check out who you're following for advice. What level of experience have they had, do they have training in skincare or dermatology? Are they qualified to give you advice? Where are they getting their knowledge from? I love that there are so many doctors from all medical specialties on TikTok and other platforms now, which increases access to great expert advice!

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