"Dr. Pimple Popper" Criticized My Article Because I'm a Nurse and This Is My Response

4 Min Read Published July 2, 2020
Tweet from Dr. Pimple Popper over image of nurse

Sandra Lee, MD, aka Dr. "Pimple Popper,” is best known for her fascinatingly gross extraction videos, but recently, she made some waves online for a very different reason. 

On Twitter, Lee shared a WebMD article penned by Elizabeth Hanes, BSN, RN on the difference between sun poisoning and a sunburn with the comment, “Why would a registered nurse explain this? Why not a dermatologist?” adding an eye-rolling emoji for effect. Although Lee’s original tweet has since been deleted, many captured screenshots of it before she took it down. 

Dr. Pimple Popper tweet in response to WebMD article

The tweet soon took on a life of its own, sparking the creation of meme after hilarious meme, with many voicing their support for the nurse behind the article. Memes aside, however, the entire incident has helped shine a light on the important role that nurses place in public health education, especially online. 

Meme depicting two men in pawn shop behind counter


Nurse.org spoke with Hanes, the writer behind the WebMD article, about why she believes nurses can--and should be-- the go-to standard for online health content. 

A Passion for Patient Education

The woman behind the sunburn article that started it all, Hanes is a Registered Nurse from Albuquerque, New Mexico who spent her nursing career in PACU at a Level 1 Trauma Center and then in a plastic surgery office before transitioning to becoming a full-time health journalist. As Hanes describes it, it was her passion for patient education that prompted the switch. “It was frustrating to work with maybe six patients a day,” she explains. “But with a single article on a site like WebMD, you can reach a million people.” 

For over 20 years, Hanes has been doing exactly that, educating people about health for clients like WebMD and Healthgrades. And although she explains that, as a health journalist, she always follows a client’s sourcing guidelines when penning a piece (in this particular short form piece of content, for instance, WebMD did not require an expert interview), it should not be overlooked that nurses are also expert resources when it comes to health education. 

“I am a subject matter expert at a certain level,” Hanes tells Nurse.org. “That’s partly why clients hire me to write pieces like that.”

Nurses, the Original Patient Educators

Somewhat ironically, Lee’s comment wasn’t just directed at any nurse or any nurse journalist--it was directed at Hanes, who, in addition to being a professional health journalist herself, also runs a successful business called RN2writer, where she trains other nurses on how to be health journalists. 

Hanes tells Nurse.org that she founded her business based one simple principle: because she believes nurses are the best patient educators. “Patient education is the bedrock our profession is built on, and nurses are the patient educators of the world, period,” Hanes describes.

But wait--there’s more. 

Hanes, while declining to comment on what she feels are Lee’s own motivations for commenting as she did (“graciousness goes a long way,” notes Hanes), makes the strong statement that not only can nurses accurately and expertly provide consumer health content online but that they should be the writers behind any type of related health information. 

“I believe nurses are the best educated, best informed, best-positioned people, to provide content on the Internet, and that should be the standard,” she says. “If it was not written by an RN, I think it should be taken with a grain of salt.” 

Hanes points to the long history of nursing as the most trusted profession and the fact that patients have looked to nurses to break down physician language into information that they can use and understand. And through experience gained through clinical care as well as the yearly continuing education required to keep your nursing license active, nurses are skilled in absorbing high-level medical information and breaking it down into practical, relatable information. 

In the end, Hanes says that both physicians and nurses play important roles in patient education, both at the bedside and in the online health space. “It’s not an either/or,” she notes. 

“We all have something to contribute.” 

Nurses Support Nurses

Since the original tweet, and Lee’s subsequent apology on Instagram, which she also deleted, many nurses have spoken up in support of Hanes. “Nurses roared in like lionesses to my defense,” says Hanes.

The support has ranged in direct defense of Hanes and her professionalism, while others have addressed what is misunderstood about the nursing profession as a whole. 

“Someone needs to explain to her there is a difference between educating and diagnosing--the nurse was educating on the difference not diagnosing a patient with one or the other,” one nurse pointed out.

Tweet from Lala describing diagnosing versus educating

Another nurse even compared Lee to the Senator who was made infamous for her comments about nurses playing cards: “@DrPimplePopper let me just remind you about Washington state Sen. Walsh, who said nurses play cards all day. With this tweet, you joined her in offending an entire profession.”

Tweet comparing Dr. Pimple Popper to a Washington Senator

And while Hanes says that she is thankful for the support, she does want to assure any of her fellow nurses out there who are worried that she has been affected by Lee’s tweet, that she has not taken anything personally and is doing just fine. In fact, she notes that she’s gained a lot of new subscribers and followers from the whole situation. So, in an ironic turn of events, it looks like the world may just be gaining a whole new set of nurse journalists joining the ranks to provide valuable public health education to consumers.

And my guess is that they won’t just be talking about sunburns, so to the Dr. Lee’s of the world? 

Get ready.  

Chaunie Brusie
Chaunie Brusie
Nurse.org Contributor

Chaunie Brusie, BSN, RN is a nurse-turned-writer with experience in critical care, long-term care, and labor and delivery. Her work has appeared everywhere from Glamor to The New York Times to The Washington Post. Chaunie lives with her husband and five kids in the middle of a hay field in Michigan and you can find more of her work here

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