Why Millions Are Watching Mama Doctor Jones Demystify Sexual Health Online
Southland-based Danielle Jones, aka Mama Doctor Jones, uses the algorithm to teach gynecological health to the masses. For IRL, she explains to Shanti Mathias why this work is important.
“I never have downtime,” says gynecologist Danielle Jones, speaking to me from her home office in Southland. We understand why: the American doctor is a world star, with more than a million subscribers on both Youtube and ICT Tacas well as 280,000 others on instagram. In addition to YouTube and the practice of medicine, Jones is also a parent of four young children.
Jones – known as “Mama Doctor Jones” on the internet – describes her videos, which focus on human reproduction and sexual health, as “educational entertainment”. Want to know how an IUD is inserted? wondering whether drinking cranberry juice will actually help with a urinary tract infection? Jones has videos addressing these questions, and many more, often with entertaining sound effects and grim examples.
Her deep passion is evident: whether it’s wide-eyed wonder as she watches a giraffe gives birthor the curiosity in her voice as she explains a ultrasound videoJones is invested in its content.
Jones is aggressively pro-science; she even sells merchandise, shirts with slogans like “Vaccinated because…science” and “You can’t be offended by science.” On TikTok, she posts sassy videos in response to, for example, a commentator who suggests she shouldn’t be a doctor saying the various medical boards under which she is certified disagree. For the most part, she doesn’t care about rejection: “I’m confident in just about anything I bring up as a discussion,” she says.
Mama Doctor Jones’ videos often reference recent academic research in her field, explaining it in layman’s terms for those without a scientific background. She links the papers she cites, highlighting key terms on screen, making the science readable for those without the formative years she has.
As a doctor, Jones has to keep up with developments in his field anyway, so his social media content meshes perfectly with his other work. “I find a topic that was relevant [clinically] that week – almost everything I do online is also related to my daily life.
Jones also learns things from her audience and she tries to be open about that process. “Criticism from my audience is sometimes extremely helpful – I would know so much less about cultural practices and the importance of cultural sensitivity and the LGBTQIA community if my audience didn’t constructively critique what I do,” says -she.
Doing a video mentioning vaginal steaming, for example, she is clear that the practice has no medical use, but is important in some cultures. That said, she draws a clear line between those kinds of comments and people who “literally criticize everything I do.” She is puzzled as to why these people are watching her content. “I know not everyone will like my content and that’s okay, it’s not for everyone, but I would love to have these [critics] go ahead,” she said.
This consideration of his audience and the value of accessibility is at the heart of what Jones does. “I really think there are people who are less well served by traditional models of delivering medical information,” she says, choosing her words carefully. Perhaps the popularity of her videos is an indictment of the education and health systems — not to mention digital platforms — that often fail to provide people with clear information about sexual health. Jones knows there are people who “have felt for a long time that they just haven’t been heard, in gynecology and pregnancy care, they’ve been ignored, their pain has been ignored.” How can she offer clear and accurate information to this audience before predatory disinformation providers do?
“People tend to believe the first thing they hear, and it’s much harder to unlearn that,” she says. In this respect, the size of her audience means she must be careful – the same algorithms and human impulses that lead to thousands of clicks on her videos can also spread health untruths, and it’s possible that “answering those [myths] will give them more traction than they had before I said anything. His strategy is to try to tackle things early” so I can go back and say, “Y’all can watch this video [that already exists]’ – it’s much more efficient that way.
The titles of her videos give an idea of how she tries to do it: bright vignettes labeled “5 Tampon Myths You Should NOT Believe‘ or “10 Pregnancy Rules Your Doctor Needs You To Know”. Didactic? Sure, but that’s the point. These are the kind of clickable titles that the YouTube algorithm loves, and Jones says she actively searches for trends to join. “My nerdy science brain…loves learning how to use social media platforms at their algorithmic level.”
The thumbnails of the videos — Jones’ face beaming in shock, eyes wide, eyebrows raised — are heavily emotive, another way they’re picked up by the algorithm. The Mama Doctor Jones channel often uses familiar video formats like reaction videos, where health TikToks or episodes of I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant meet Jones’ straightforward explanations of the science behind biology. And her algorithmic expertise is working — behind her, in the southern autumn sun, glistens a gold YouTube plaque commemorating her one million subscribers, a milestone Jones achieved last year.
Does Jones think more doctors should do what she’s doing to demystify health care through social media? “I think it’s unfair to ask people to do the amount of clinical work that we do, [the] hours and years of our lives and also say you have a duty to find out how to do this on the internet,” she says. She does both clinical and YouTube work because she really loves social media, but says it “has got to be a labor of love.”
After all, many doctors are busy, and Jones especially — we’re talking on a Saturday afternoon after she rescheduled our Friday interview, emailing me at 1:00 a.m. after a shift from 6 p.m. The extra shifts she takes on are the result of well documented understaffed in southern DHBespecially in the gynecology department.
As a result, Jones has had less time to do her social media mahi, which she’s optimistic about. In the third year of the pandemic, with headlines frequently declaring the strain on healthcare systems and frontline workers, his videos offer insight into the pressure individual workers are under..
On social networks, Jones describes his family as “nomadic”. I feel like my instinct to “ask about New Zealand” kicks in. She says she likes living here. “I think only good things come from seeing more of the world,” she says. Changing countries “provides perspective and opens your eyes to different people and different practices”; already, she can see her children being more sensitive and open-minded. She doesn’t know how long she’ll be staying, but she hopes to learn more about Maori birth practices, her mouth still getting used to forming te reo words.
And what about his channel? “I am delighted to be able to give so many people information that is sometimes difficult to obtain in everyday life and sometimes a little taboo,” she says. She wants to “lean” into social media while she still can, knowing there might be an “expiration date” when it’s no longer relevant. For now, however, there is much to learn and much to teach.