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Doctor Mike Dishes on Instagram Fame

Mike Varshavski debunks FitTea, doesn’t want to be called “hot doctor” anymore

Despite the confluence of white-bread-handsome doctors on TV, from the baby-faced savant on ABC’s ratings slayer The Good Doctor to titular doctor-in-training on Fox’s just-premiered The Resident, for many, there is no substitute for Grey’s Anatomy’s now-deceased Derek Shepherd a.k.a. McDreamy. And while that Patrick Dempsey-shaped void may never be filled, a relatively new genre of medical inspo – Instagram-famous doctors – is giving the McDreamy archetype a brand new face.

Along with the Instagram before-and-after, social media-savvy doctors are now a thing – and they’re not confined to the visually obsessed field of cosmetic surgery (see: conventionally attractive veterinarian Dr. Antin or hipster dentist Jennifer Plotnick). But when it comes to the hot Instagram doctor ideal, the guy who wrote the book is New York City-based family physician Mike Varshavski, D.O. (seriously, he published a paper on the subject last year).

While his practice my lack the drama of a Shonda Rhimes original, Varshavski’s nearly 3 million followers rivals an average Grey’s episode’s television audience – and there’s nothing fictional about his medical training. Here, we catch up with him about his path to being Instagram’s most famous doc-in-residence.

What was your goal when you started your Instagram?

I created my Instagram about five years ago as a student with the goal of showing that you can have a well-rounded life in medical school. I would be delivering babies and then later that day I would be exercising in the gym or out at an event somewhere in the city. Organically, page grew to about 100,000 followers. Most people didn’t even believe I was a medical student. That’s what made me even more passionate, because they said, no medical student can have that much free time.

What caused your social media presence to go to the next level?  

In 2015, BuzzFeed, HuffPo, Cosmo and all these media outlets wrote stories about my Instagram page. Over the course of that week, I grew maybe a million followers. But they weren’t talking about my success or my being the youngest doctor at my hospital. I wanted to talk about primary care, preventative care and all the benefits that it could bring, and how much nonsense there is when it comes to medicine.

What is some of the nonsense out there?

 Like how if you take this vitamin you’ll prevent cancer or if you eat this belly soup you’ll lose 60 pounds in 30 days. Just nonsense that wasn’t credible and was just being thrown around on the Internet. And I wanted to be the person who would discuss those topics, but I had to initially embrace this hot doctor philosophy, if you will [laughs] and go on these talk shows and talk about these things. 

What is your job, exactly? What is a D.O.?  

I’m a fully licensed New York State physician focusing on family medicine. I’m a D.O., which means that I’m a doctor of osteopathy as opposed to an M.D. We have the same privileges, but basically for the first four years [of medical school] I had extra training in hands-on manipulation.

How many of your patients find you online?

It’s hard to give an estimate, but the ones who come after seeing me online are people who generally did not go see a doctor, and were intimidated by the thought they would find out something negative about their health. But seeing that I’m just like them, I go out, I have a dog, I have a family – that relatability not only encouraged them to come in, but when they came in, it made the conversation go a lot smoother.

Were there things about the medical profession you wanted to change?

 When I was shadowing doctors in school, whether it was a cardiologist or a gastroenterologist, when they talked to the patient, even if they gave the exact, perfect diagnosis and treatment plan, when they walked out of the room, the patient would look at me and say, “Doc, what did he just say?” It showed me that no matter how great of a doctor you were, how great your knowledge was, if you couldn’t relay that message to the patient through mutual experiences or mutual understanding, your knowledge was pretty much useless.

Are you in favor of medical professionals giving advice online?

In fact, I think there is no community of doctors doing this, and that highlights the fact that doctors are afraid of being labeled as marketers. They’re afraid of being labeled as the next Dr. Oz. So I encourage doctors to say, it’s not bad to be a marketer – as long as you’re a good marketer for the right things.

So for the record, you don’t endorse the use of FitTea?

Absolutely not. The principle of those teas is that they have a strong diuretic, which means that they cause you to pee more and excrete more water from your stomach. So people will drink the tea, they step on the scale, they weigh less, and assume that it’s helping. All it’s doing is it’s dehydrating your body.

Main image: instagram.com