Get Well

The Hottest Doctor on Instagram, IRL

Doctor Mike talks criticism and social media fame.

By: Noah Lehava
Photography: Weston Wells

Google “Doctor Mike.” Or Instagram him, for that matter. We’ll wait. Welcome back. That was nice, wasn’t it? You and 2M of his followers think so.

Contrary to what you may assume from your cursory search, Doctor Mikhail Varshavski (that’s his IRL name, in case you were wondering) is, well, a real, practicing physician. The whole viral-hot-Instagram-doctor thing was a happy, crazy side effect. Mainly because social media is an insane space where one single mention by, say, Buzzfeed, can increase your following by 700K in a few days, thus changing your entire life. It did for him. And just like anything that manifests through social media, we wanted to know how it happened. So we met up with Doctor Mike in the flesh at Cure Urgent Care in NYC to talk about life before Instagram, dealing with the criticism that comes with fame, and how a selfie has helped him save a life. Seriously, just keep reading.

 

It’s all in the family:

“I saw how my father interacted with his patients, and I saw the relationship that he had with them, even when they weren’t his clients. They were his friends. They would come, they would hug, they would bring him gifts, they would cook for him, they would trust him with their health and with their family members’ health. I was like, ‘wow that’s an amazing job’. You make a good living, it’s fun, and you get to learn—every day is a new learning experience. The information that we have on medicine changes all the time, it’s an ever-growing field. I always had a hunger for knowledge; I wanted to know why I was sick when I was sick, I wanted to know why certain things hurt on my body when they did hurt.”

 

Where “Doctor Mike” came from:

“When I was in high school, my friends would always come to me when they would hurt themselves while working out. They would say, ‘let’s go see Doctor Mike,’ as a joke. It wasn’t an Instagram thing, that’s what my buddies called me. I really liked that people trusted me with those things, so I decided to do it full-time. I applied to a lot of accelerated programs; three years of undergraduate studies and four years of medical school.”

 

Everyone is an athlete:

“I love sports medicine. Being an athlete my entire life, I’ve been exposed to the field many times. I think the way that we train athletes can be applied to other ailments in the human body. People with high blood pressure, people with Parkinson’s, people with diabetes can benefit from sports medicine. I like to treat my patients, whether they’re five or 105, as athletes. That sounds a little crazy, but what we found is that the way your body improves and heals itself is only  improved when you exercise.”

 

When Instagram happened:

“I started about four years ago. I started documenting my journey throughout medical school, showing what it was like day-to-day. I would show myself in the operating room, and out at an event later that day. I would go to fashion events and people would be like, ‘How is this guy a medical student and doing all these things?’ People related to it, and I gained about a hundred thousand followers over the three years that I was documenting my medical school journey. Then, last year, press came out in late September calling me, ‘a hot doctor with his husky’ and my Instagram following skyrocketed to 700k followers. That wasn’t really the ideal way for me to become a viral sensation. I mean, I’m a physician, I’m a professional person and I wanted to maintain that identity, but also I wanted to show my personality at the same time.”

 

The unexpected happy consequence of a selfie:

“I think doctors are often scared to [take selfies because they're afraid] of being labeled unprofessional. But doctors are humans too! It’s incredibly important for a doctor and a patient to be able to relate to one another. Gone are the days when patients go to the doctor and the doctor barks orders at them. Now, we’re a team. I explain all the options so they can make a decision of what they want to do. What I found is doing the social media stuff, showing people that I’m playing with my dog or I’m working out, people instantly have a good conversation with me when they come in. We get down to business much quicker, they’re much more open with me and they’re much more likely to come see me as a doctor. It's crazy because you would never think social media would push people to go get physicals and checkups. Now I’m catching cancer early because of my selfies—that’s crazy to say but that’s happened.”

 

On learning and teaching along the way:

“Originally [when I started my social accounts], I was a student, I didn’t really know what being a doctor was all about. When you go into your clinicals your third year, it really blows your mind what a doctor’s job is. So through this journey—I had to figure this out on my own, and I wanted to use social media for something positive—I combined being a really quality physician and integrating social media into it. I can’t go to anyone for advice because no other doctors are doing this. There are a lot of eyes on me but my priorities are my patients and their families. My hospital sees that and they respect what I’m doing. I’m motivating students along the way to pursue medicine. I think that’s what medicine loses to a lot of fields, like finance. You have really quality students, really smart people, but they’re worried that they’re going to have to give up their lives to go into medicine, so you lose a lot of these bright young minds and my goal is to get them back. So that’s partly why I’m doing this.”

 

How being Instagram famous can lead to criticism:

“I think it’s easy for somebody to label me as unprofessional because they see selfies, but those people are generally unhappy with themselves and like to find unhappiness anywhere they look. I could be a Pulitzer prize or a Nobel Peace Prize-winning physician but if I take a selfie, you could say something negative about it. If you look at the big picture of what I’m doing and how my patients are reacting to it, and the professional manner that I’m handling myself throughout the whole process, I think it speaks volumes.”

 

His typical day:

“Because I’m a family medical doctor, my days are really different. One month I could be conducting surgeries, another month I could be delivering babies, the next I could be in the emergency room. Sometimes my days start at 5 A.M. and end at 3 P.M. the following day. So that would be a 36-hour call shift, and those can be rough. You try to get in little naps along the way, we have a call room in our hospital, but a lot of times you’re working throughout the whole time. It’s difficult, but because you’re doing something you really enjoy, the whole process becomes easier."

 

Finding balance with work and life:

“That’s what people don’t understand about me. They ask, ‘How do you balance all these things? After a 14-hour shift you’re going to an event, aren’t you exhausted?’ And yeah, physically I’m tired, but the thing that’s interesting about psychology is when you go home and you lie down on your couch and you crash, that’s not relaxation for your brain. So the next day, when you go directly back to work, all your brain is thinking about is that you were at work from the previous day and now you’re at work again and nothing in between happened. Me on the other hand, I’ll go from work directly to an event. I’ll be physically tired, but then the next day at work I’m not fatigued, I’m reenergized—all of these things work in a positive rewards system and reduce my stress levels.”

 

How he stays active (& why you should too):

“I think what people don't understand is how much time you need to put into an activity to stay fit. What we’ve learned is that you really need a short amount of exercise, but at a high intensity. If you can alternate the high intensity with the low intensity for a period of twenty minutes, you’re getting really good exercise for your heart, you’re getting really good exercise for your lungs, and you get the most beneficial weight-loss. So when people say, ‘Oh, don’t you need an hour and a half at the gym?’ No, you don’t. It takes 20 or 30 minutes a day to get the high-intensity workout in. If I do have an hour, I would like to go play sports instead. It’s more fun, it’s social, you get all your neurotransmitters going—people spend a lot of time worrying instead of actually doing.”

 

What’s next:

“Things are changing by the day. Right now what I’m looking to open up my own practice after this year is over as a resident. I plan to do part-time work in my office and part-time media training, like being a medical expert and talking about medical education to patients. Instead of educating my one patient in front of me, educating millions at home. I think that’s a fun way to do it. Also, I’m really passionate about my philanthropic work, I have my own foundation, Limitless Tomorrow."

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