Win poor health Flanary’s days are spent conducting eye exams and cataract surgical procedures at a personal follow exterior Portland, Ore. The evenings are for household, and a standing dedication to make dinner for his spouse and two daughters. That leaves nights and weekends for the ring mild, the iPhone, and Flanary’s alter ego, an web celeb often known as Dr. Glaucomflecken.
Flanary, 36, has about 2.5 million subscribers throughout TikTok, YouTube, and Twitter, the place his pointed satire of drugs’s many absurdities has ballooned right into a forged of characters and a cottage business. Flanary’s escalating reputation is all of the extra notable as a result of his jokes, delivered briefly skits, plumb the inane depths of American well being care. The specificity is by design, Flanary mentioned, giving his friends one thing to narrate to and a rising viewers of outsiders one thing to snigger at.
“That’s why I really like constructing this Glaucomflecken Common Hospital of characters,” Flanary advised STAT. “I might be fairly particular with totally different areas of drugs and create this world of, actually, fairly dysfunctional individuals. Nevertheless it’s humorous.”
There’s the lackadaisical emergency medication physician, eternally clad in biking gear. There’s the nice and cozy however disconcertingly studious pediatrician, the charmingly alarmist dermatologist, the meatheaded orthopedic surgeon, and Jonathan, the loyal medical scribe whose dedication borders on sociopathy.
Every is deployed as a comedic foil for no matter level Flanary desires to make, whether or not a high-minded critique of prior authorization or a farcical look at how residency works. And every submits to a few minutes of Jungian analysis, care of the workers psychiatrist. Flanary is author, director, editor, and star, with the everyday sketch foisting two or extra of his characters into an instructively maddening scenario that resolves with a punchline and maybe some music, all in about 90 seconds.
Flanary is hardly alone amongst docs with TikTok accounts. However not like the various debunkers, explainers, and self-promotional plastic surgeons who populate the platform, Flanary’s major concern is with making individuals snigger.
That may be a tough proposition. The tradition of drugs is notoriously conservative, and docs’ social media accounts have a tendency towards the robotic. Then again, some physicians’ makes an attempt at white-coat comedy have veered into questionable jokes at patients’ expense.
“What I feel [Flanary] does properly typically — and maybe why he’s by no means been canceled — is that his humor is usually one in all two issues: healthful, or relatable to everyone throughout the medical group,” mentioned Sarah Mojarad, who teaches a course on social media for docs and scientists on the College of Southern California. “These are issues medical college students have skilled, that residents have skilled — it’s all relatable.”
Flanary mentioned he desires his friends to see themselves in his satire, “to come back away feeling like someone understands.” However he additionally hopes poking enjoyable on the occupation may assist nudge docs away from what is usually a monastic self-regard.
“There’s this prevailing notion you could’t do the issues I’m doing on social media as a result of it’s not skilled,” he mentioned. “You’ll be able to’t inform jokes. You’ll be able to’t speak concerning the issues that you’ve got in your job with out sacrificing professionalism. And what I’ve discovered is that that isn’t the case in any respect. Folks need the alternative. Folks need their docs to appear like actual people who find themselves relatable.”
Flanary, initially from Houston, has been a working towards comic longer than he’s had a medical license. He began doing stand-up, “the toughest factor on the planet,” whereas in faculty at Texas Tech College. That led to writing for the college’s satirical journal, and Flanary contributed to GomerBlog, a type of medical analog to The Onion, by his coaching in ophthalmology.
That mixed dedication to studying the within particulars of drugs whereas working towards the outsider artwork of satire may clarify what makes Dr. Glaucomflecken work. Flanary’s finest materials balances the specificity of an skilled with the nostril for hypocrisy that sometimes comes from an incisive observer, mentioned Heidi Tworek, a College of British Columbia historical past professor who research well being communication.
“He does this very intelligent mixture of explaining some advanced issues clearly and humorously,” Tworek mentioned. “It’s this candy spot of demystification and comedy concurrently.”
Like many issues involving TikTok, the Dr. Glaucomflecken phenomenon was born out of boredom. It was the spring of 2020, and the nascent Covid-19 pandemic had shuttered companies across the nation, together with Flanary’s non-public follow.
His idle arms first turned to Twitter, the place he’d amassed some 100,000 followers as @DGlaucomflecken, borrowing the German time period for a glaucoma symptom as a result of he needed “probably the most ridiculous phrase I might consider in ophthalmology.” However quickly he “wasn’t discovering it as a lot of a problem” to be humorous by way of textual content. And Twitter, a web site on which the rhetorical distance between “I disagree with you” and “you have to be put in jail” might be alarmingly brief, was changing into a little bit of a drag. Then he discovered TikTok.
“I checked it out and it appeared good,” Flanary mentioned. “A brief format, very straightforward to edit and shoot, and it could work on my schedule. I might assault all these matters that I’d been discussing on Twitter simply with boring phrases, however now I might method it differently and do one thing new.”
His early work was squarely within the lingua franca of the platform: brief, comedic movies synced to widespread songs. In a clip posted April 9, 2020, he squints, scowls, and grins into the digicam to clarify the various muscle mass of the face, all with assistance from Megan Thee Stallion. Issues would step by step get just a little extra pointed, with jokes on the expense of disinterested emergency medicine doctors, overeager medical students, and, in a operating theme, well-paid and under-worked ophthalmologists.
Every obtained just a few thousand views and a few enthusiastic feedback, however Flanary’s ascent to TikTok stardom would come solely after a brush with dying.
On the evening of Might 11, 2020, his coronary heart went haywire. Flanary suffered a type of cardiac arrest referred to as ventricular fibrillation, wherein the center’s decrease chambers flutter erratically, slicing off the circulate of blood to the remainder of the physique. Left untreated, it’s a minutes-long prelude to dying. Flanary is alive as a result of his spouse, Kristin, observed his irregular respiration and carried out CPR till an EMT might arrive and shock his coronary heart again into common operate.
After a three-day ICU keep, Flanary could be fitted with a brief defibrillator, bear surgical procedure to get a everlasting one, and — most essential for his comedy — navigate the hellish actuality of American medical insurance.
In his first video to get greater than 1 million views, posted that July, Flanary performs two roles: the flabbergasted affected person saddled with an enormous invoice, and the unnervingly calm customer support consultant explaining that if he had merely chosen an in-network physician whereas he was unconscious, all of this might have been averted.
It was a clarifying second for Flanary as a creator, convincing him to ditch TikTok’s de rigueur music syncopation and embrace what he was good at: crafting characters and writing jokes. And the outsized response taught him that just a little righteous indignation can go a great distance with an viewers. Getting greater than 1 million views grew to become the norm.
“It actually did kick off with the insurance coverage issues,” Flanary mentioned. “I noticed, ‘Oh there’s an enormous urge for food for this. This resonates with lots of people.’”
Over the following months, he’d set his sights on the idiosyncrasies of medical schooling, educational journals, and all of well being care’s many situations of “establishments preying on people who find themselves much less highly effective than them,” he mentioned. However Flanary had no illusions that the world needed to listen to self-serious rants from a private-practice doctor within the Pacific Northwest, so he made his factors one of the simplest ways he knew how: making up characters and writing jokes at their expense.
The Glaucomflecken repertory theater started to develop. The characters bounce off each other, both for instance some irksome side of drugs or just to be the butt of a joke. They’re additionally put to make use of in Flanary’s tried-and-true format, courting again to the insurance coverage video: pithy clips wherein an affordable particular person encounters a preposterous system, and comedy ensues.
Flanary isn’t terribly involved that his caricatures will ruffle feathers amongst his friends, partly as a result of he’s by no means far faraway from a joke on the expense of his personal specialty. Each time he’s unsure whether or not a given joke may go too far, he refers to a easy guideline: Remember to punch up.
“I at all times ensure that the article of ridicule is evident,” Flanary mentioned. The well being care system is laden with energy dynamics, “and sufferers are on the backside,” he mentioned, “so I ought to by no means be perceived as making enjoyable of sufferers, as a result of that’s not going to go OK.”
When issues get just a little extra difficult, “what it comes right down to for me is: Do I imagine that my ridicule of one thing is justified?” he mentioned. “And I belief myself. However sooner or later you simply need to go for it. You need to do it and stay by the results.”
Being humorous was at all times meant to be a interest somewhat than a vocation, however the surging reputation of Dr. Glaucomflecken has changed into a enterprise in its personal proper. Flanary declined to reveal his comedy earnings, however he will get advert income from YouTube, and he’s recording three or 4 Cameo movies an evening at $180 a pop.
He’s additionally beginning to assume larger. Merchandise is in improvement, and he’s plotting a strategy to translate what works on TikTok right into a longer-form episodic format. That possible means tv, whether or not live-action, animation, or some mixture thereof. The concept is in “the very early phases,” Flanary mentioned, however he’s been working with an outdoor agency to press issues ahead.
The query is simply how huge his viewers is perhaps — and whether or not what works on-line can translate to a different medium. Sarah Cooper, a comic who rose to web stardom by lip-syncing to President Trump, parlayed her success right into a 2020 Netflix particular that was not significantly well-received, after which the election got here and went alongside together with her second.
Flanary is keen to take the gamble. Dr. Glaucomflecken’s success so far was unimaginable again within the spring of 2020. Who’s to say what 2024 may deliver? And in addition to, even when all of it blows up, he nonetheless will get to be a health care provider.
“I’m lucky to have this good job that provides me a pleasant dwelling that’s at all times there,” he mentioned. “So this all feels actually low-stakes. I really feel like I can simply attempt this stuff and see the place it takes me.”