Will Flanary, known as ‘Dr. Glaucomflecken,’ makes videos that make fun of his peers
On TikTok, Instagram and Twitter, Flanary posts videos several times a week – to more than 1.6 million followers – about the medical system. Sometimes it’s a sarcastic look at coronavirus guidelines, an insider’s take on the medical hierarchy (nurses are the real leaders), or the expensive world of peer-reviewed publishing. . But above all, the soft-spoken young doctor focuses on the strong personalities involved in daily medical practice.
There are many YouTube videos of doctors ‘reacting’ to Flanary’s assessments of their character – as a trauma surgeon David Hindinneurosurgeon Martin Rutkowski and neurologist Anna Nordvig – who say that the performances are perfect.
For non-medical staff, Flanary’s videos provide insight and some tips for coping with a world most only see from the patient side. For example, neurologists may get a mild stab of rage hearing someone described as having an “altered mental state”, which they describe as “garbage terminology”, as it can mean anything from mildly confused to comatose.
Flanary, 36, has been on both sides of the stethoscope. He was diagnosed with testicular cancer twice – the first time when he was in fourth year medical school at Geisel School of Medicine in Dartmouth, and the second time when he was in third year residency at the University of Iowa. Then, on May 12, 2020, he went into cardiac arrest (not a heart attack) and was saved by his wife, Kristin, who performed CPR. Flanary still doesn’t know what caused her heart to stop.
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From his home in Portland, Oregon, Flanary, who served as Yale Medical School’s keynote speaker this year, talked about finding humor in everyday life, what he hears from other doctors, and his hack side as a Cameo star. This interview has been lightly edited for style and clarity.
Q: How did this whole social media gig start?
A: It was a little surprising, I just did it as a creative outlet. I started doing the video format at the right time – especially with the pandemic more people have been online. It’s been a little surprising how popular the characters are – they’ve taken on a life of their own.
Q: Why do you think it’s become such a hit, especially for people outside of the medical world?
A: They may not understand some of the terminology, some of the jokes, but they understand the personalities, and it resonates with people. It’s a big compliment to me, that people who aren’t in medicine always watch, because it tells me that my acting skills are decent.
Q: Many of the doctors you describe have very specific personality traits. What is the personality of an ophthalmologist?
A: We are a bit boring. We don’t like to work for long periods of time. We like to take breaks. We really like to sit. It is indeed a personality – “likes to sit”.
Q: You wrote in your bio about stand-up, but you never explained how you ended up becoming an ophthalmologist?
A: When I started medical school in Dartmouth, everyone was randomly assigned a counselor, and my counselor was an ophthalmologist. It wasn’t until I was able to do an ophthalmology internship at the start of my fourth year that I made the decision, so I decided very late. It was the juxtaposition between my previous rotation, which was vascular surgery, where you’re on your feet for about six hours, holding the retractor, and you have really sick patients. And then there is ophthalmology, where I can sit to operate. I can come home at a reasonable time and develop meaningful relationships with my family. I like knowing there’s an end to my day when you come home.
Q: You made a video in March about “Match Day,” where medical students “team up” with residency, essentially cementing their medical specialty. But your video focused on students who don’t fit and how they will be fine. It got so many comments from students and doctors.
A: This is a good example of one that surprised me. One thing I’ve learned is that the videos that get the most reactions are the ones where there’s an emotional reaction. And these are the ones where there is a lot of truth on a slightly more sensitive subject… people react to them more because they feel listened to. [Not matching] is a really difficult thing to manage, and I am able to put it under the prism of humor.
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Q: I watched videos of doctors’ reactions. The trauma surgeon laughed a lot at the part where the “surgeon” tells the “medical student” that he’s mad at the student for not being sighted. “It’s not true, but it’s also true,” the surgeon said. How do you know the little idiosyncrasies so well?
A: Each specialty in medicine has a kind of personality, an essence, and they have been the same since the beginning of modern medicine. I don’t know if the specialty makes the personality or if the personality is attracted to the specialty, it’s a kind of chicken or egg. I draw a lot from my med school experience, and even though I’m 10 years away from med school, things don’t really change—there will always be a dynamic between surgery and anesthesia. Sometimes I still have to do some research, so I go to the Reddit forums and read what people like about being a neurologist or a cardiologist, so I’ll get a lot out of that.
Q: Have you ever received criticism from doctors?
A: I never get a reaction from the surgeons. I received the most negative feedback from family physicians/primary care physicians. They don’t like the portrayal of some of them as an overworked, underpaid sympathetic figure, always doing some kind of camaraderie. They think that by portraying the character that way I’m deterring people from going into that field, which I don’t buy for a second. But that’s a minority – most people do just fine.
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Q: What did you learn about being a doctor as a patient?
A: It reinforced for me how important it is for doctors to show who they are from a personality perspective. For a long time there’s been this idea that it’s unprofessional to show that side of yourself as a doctor; that you’re supposed to be this emotionless machine and you can’t show that things affect you mentally, or make you angry, sad, or laugh. Social media is a great way to show that side because you can reach a large audience and it shows the public that we have things to suck at in our jobs or that we hate health care and it allows the general public to identify with us, and that’s been missing for a very, very long time.
Q: I see you are often hired on Cameo ($249) to send messages — usually congratulations on acceptance to medical school, but also wedding anniversaries. How does it work?
A: I made over 1,000 cameos!
Q: Does your family think you’re as funny as everyone else?
A: Nope! They’re all funnier than me.