Here's to you, social media influencers! Here's to you, Huda Kattan and your 29 million Instagram followers snapping up your touted makeup and beauty products. And huzzah to you Kylie Jenner and all the Kylie Cosmetics you can promote and sell. And a big hooray for Jerad Gardner for your social media presence spreading the word about pathology.
Gardner, associate professor of pathology and dermatology at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, has a social media thumbprint that's impressive by any measure. Gardner has more than 15,000 followers on Twitter (@JMGardnerMD). He has more than 21,000 on Instagram. His YouTube channel has 15,000-plus subscribers, and the videos Gardner routinely posts aren't skimming the surface of his profession -- a 2017 video, Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC) 101 -- Dermpath Basics Explained by a Dermatopathologist, has more than 27,000 views and counting.
The majority of Gardner's social media followers include fellow pathologists, but Gardner explains that the public at large seeking out medical information makes up part of his sizable audience.
"I've met patients via Facebook support groups, and it has changed my life, my research, even how I practice medicine," Gardner says. "I want every pathologist to experience these amazing things. I truly think our world would be a little bit better if more pathologists used social media."
Gardner's evangelism for his field to make a mark in social media has brought him attention by leading pathologists all over the world. Gardner's enthusiasm has made an impression.
"You can't be around him if you want to take a nap," says Dr. Jennifer Hunt, chair of pathology at UAMS. "Certainly in our field, he is absolutely one of the top leaders in the pathology on social media. He was one of the first in our national organizational meetings to get us all tweeting. He started that trend. Besides that, he is a really good pathologist."
"[Being a pathologist] is a stressful job," Gardner says. "But pathologists benefit from sharing what they know with other pathologists in different parts of the country and different parts of the world. I have given something like 178 lectures and 85 of those were about social media. This is a powerful tool and good can come from it. This is particularly true for senior doctors. If I can help them get over that hurdle and teach them how to post on Twitter, that's great."
NERDY FROM THE START
The small town of Mount Gilead, Ohio, was Gardner's home for the first 13 years of his life. The oldest of five children, Gardner and his family lived off a highway just outside the small center of town.
"We lived in the country outside of town," Gardner says. "I grew up playing with my brothers out in the woods, and we built forts. I was never able to look over to what the neighbors were doing. Amish people would make maple syrup in winter in the woods behind the house. They would let us come and watch that. It was very cool."
The core interests of the future pathologist were pronounced from the very beginning.
"I was nerdy from start," Gardner says. "I read encyclopedias as a kid. It was the '80s, and so there was no internet. If you wanted to learn something, you had to read it in a book. I would go to the small library in town and get books on animals, plants, gardening."
Gardner never strayed far from his books.
"I never liked playing sports," Gardner says. "I skateboarded as a teenager but was never really good at it. I enjoyed it though."
When Gardner was 13, his family moved to the Gulf Coast town of Navarre, Fla. There Gardner was able to take advantage of a dual enrollment program where high school students could take college courses that would count as credit for high school and college. The higher-level courses did not pose a problem for Gardner.
"For me, it was always a set path to go to college," Gardner says. "It was always assumed I would go to college. Through Florida's dual enrollment program, I was able to earn 64 college credits. If you can do chemistry at 18, you can do it at 16."
As luck would have it, Gardner was out skateboarding with a friend when the friend told him about a job at a nearby lab where the friend's mom worked.
"It sounded interesting," Gardner recalls. "I applied to be a technical assistant the next day. I got the job and started working right away. I was 17."
"The lab was a pathology lab but also covered the forensic pathology for the county," Gardner says. "It was fascinating, especially as a teenager. I watched gross dissection and autopsies. I peered into the microscope and watched the pathologists instantly decide if something was cancer or not ... as if by magic! I loved all of it."
His work as a low-level technical assistant introduced him to the daily work involved in pathology. Gardner quickly discovered that pathology wasn't pure, passionless science.
"We deal with the most terrible diseases," Gardner says. "There's always an interesting scientific layer underneath. Some people don't want to hear that this certain tumor is beautiful. Sometimes, the way we talk about medicine bothers people. None of us wants people to get cancer. But you have to like what you do."
FINDING LOVE AT A PUNK ROCK CONCERT
Due to Gardner's earning college credits while still in high school, he only had to spend two years at the University of South Alabama to pick up his college degree. It was there he made a crucial connection at a concert.
"I met my wife at a Christian punk rock concert," Gardner says. "Some guys at my church were in a punk rock band and I went to support them. [Jenny] came up to me and said, 'I like your T-shirt.' It was a shirt for Jesse and the Rockers, an obscure punk rock band. I found out later she was hitting on me. We started dating soon after that. I bought my first cellphone to keep in touch with her."
The dates led to a marriage that's now 17 years long. Gardner and his wife now have three kids. Gardner sums it up: "It worked out pretty well going to the show."
Tulane University in New Orleans was Gardner's choice for medical school. Gardner, who had done a lot of work in advance, found himself in classrooms filled with students older than he was.
"Socially and in age, I was younger than everyone," Gardner says. "Medical school was like my college experience. I met a lot of great people. It was where I matured. I was away from my family for the first time."
The difference in medical school was easy to figure out. Gardner could tell that the challenges he faced as an undergraduate weren't going to be the same in the pressure-packed environment of Tulane.
"In undergrad, I studied the night before the test for everything," Gardner says. "I tried that once I got to medical school, and that did not work. I was very mediocre in my first year in med school. I think I got a C in Gross Anatomy. People say med school is like drinking from a fire hose. That's what I found out. My second year, I learned how to study. From then, I did well and did well on my exams."
In medical school, all prospective doctors have to go through a full rotation, touching on all the various specialties in medicine. Gardner went through it all but none of the different experiences changed his mind about what he wanted to do.
"I tried to keep an open mind during my rotation," Gardner says. "But looking under a microscope and discovering this is what this disease is is so interesting to me. Pathology was where I was headed and where I needed to be."
The end of Gardner's time in med school was punctuated by a traumatic event. Hurricane Katrina gained enormous power out in the Gulf of Mexico and slammed into the Louisiana coast and vulnerable New Orleans.
"Our rent house had six feet of water," says Gardner of the aftermath of Katrina. "This was the house we rented in 2005. [My wife and I] hadn't been married very long. After Katrina, we evacuated to Houston, where my wife's folks lived. One of our cars was underwater. To this day, I'm paranoid about losing data. It was stressful. But it was a good lesson to learn that you can live without stuff. You can always get new stuff."
Today Gardner does the work that pathologists do everywhere. In his office at UAMS, Gardner has a microscope on his desk and a stack of slides to examine for cancer or other diseases. Thanks to his worldwide social media outreach, Gardner is able to work and, at the same time, pass on what he knows due to his round-the-clock presence on the various social media outlets.
Just as every restaurant, movie and kitchen mop is up for review on the internet in 2020, pathologists like Gardner have easily accessible reviews. Scrolling through all of his glowing, five-star reviews, it's not a stretch to say that Gardner has a fan base.
Sanjay Mukhopadhyay, director of Pulmonary Pathology at Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, posted this five-star review of Gardner's activities online.
"Jerad Gardner is the guru of all things social media. A force of nature with unlimited energy, he personally reaches out to pathologists of all ages all around the world regardless of their status or academic rank and elevates everyone he touches. He has pioneered so many novel approaches to using these tools for education and networking that one doesn't know where to start. We salute you!"
Another reviewer with the online name Christine says of Gardner: "He is an excellent teacher and a great pathologist! He has had such an impact through social media in the way pathology is now understood, and it is all for free!"
Spend any time with Gardner, and you understand that he likes to fill any of his downtime with activities.
"I like to travel and to see new people and explore," Gardner says. "I recently went to a conference in Croatia and before the conference drove for three days exploring the country. Didn't have a specific place I wanted to see. I ended up driving 700 miles in a rental car."
Gardner's zeal for his profession is infectious. He clearly loves, as he says, "to solve the puzzle." He also clearly loves to share what he knows and, thanks to his pioneering efforts and the internet as it is, he is able to do just that
"This is our chance," Gardner says. "We must speak up together boldly on behalf of our field and our patients. So many people from all over the world have told me how much they appreciate social media posts by pathologists, how our posts have helped them take better care of their real-life patients."
• DATE AND PLACE OF BIRTH: May 15, 1982, Marion, Ohio.
• EVERY MORNING I MUST HAVE: Caffeine!
• ONE PLACE I WANT TO VISIT BUT HAVEN'T YET: Morocco
• THE BIGGEST MISUNDERSTANDING PEOPLE HAVE ABOUT PATHOLOGISTS/PATHOLOGY: People think pathologists are introverts who don't like talking to others and that we only do autopsies instead of taking care of living patients. While some pathologists do only autopsies, most of us spend our days diagnosing cancer and other diseases by examining biopsies and other specimens from real live patients. Patients may not see us, but we see them! Pathologists are medical doctors who do patient care from behind the scenes.
• A TRAIT I POSSESS THAT'S ESSENTIAL TO WHAT I DO: Endless curiosity and a passion for learning and teaching.
• MY FAVORITE FILM OR TV SHOW: Harry Potter (6 is my favorite)
• THE FOUR GUESTS AT MY FANTASY DINNER PARTY: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Winston Churchill and Ellen DeGeneres.
• ONE WORD THAT SUMS ME UP: Enthusiasm
“I’ve met patients via Facebook support groups and it has changed my life, my research, even how I practice medicine. I want every pathologist to experience these amazing things. I truly think our world would be a little bit better if more pathologists used social media.”
High Profile on 02/09/2020
Print Headline: HIGH PROFILE: Pathologist Jerad Gardner has used social media to reach out