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Prescribing Humor for Medicine's 'Wild West'

Chelsea Rice, for HealthLeaders Media, March 13, 2013
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This article appears in the March 2013 issue of HealthLeaders magazine.

A few years ago, Zubin Damania, MD, was feeling like "a cog in the wheel of the medical assembly line" working as a hospitalist in California's Bay Area. The 39-year-old discussed this with friend Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, the online shoe and clothing retail giant. After first suggesting Damania quit his job and join Zappos, Hsieh asked Damania if he could do anything he wanted, what would it be?

Damania prescribed humor for his own dissatisfaction and began posting funny videos about healthcare on YouTube. One of the first videos as his alter-ego character, ZDoggMD, was "Hard Doc's Life"—a parody on physician burnout. Fifty-four videos and 860,000 views later, Damania did go to work for Hsieh—moving his wife and two young daughters to Las Vegas in March 2012. But he's not selling shoes online. As director of healthcare development for Hsieh's Downtown Project, a group of entrepreneurs and social activists, Damania is committed to transforming healthcare in the city in fewer than five years.

On humor in medicine: It's one of our most uniquely human gifts, so why don't we use it more? In medicine, people subvert humor into what's dark as part of their own coping with the practice, but we need to harness it for better medical use. It's much more effective to turn it to improving our bedside manner or educating patients.

On building a medical culture: The general feeling [in Las Vegas] is there are a lot of for-profit hospitals here and a lot of competing medical groups. It's a very fragmented, confused kind of marketplace. A lot of physicians have come to Vegas thinking they are going to fix it. Unfortunately, they find it is very hard to effect change in such a complex infrastructure. Sometimes to get something done, you have to do something truly disruptive—it's a very interesting environment, a sort of "Wild West" type of scenario.

On the online medical community: The videos were resonating with other physicians, medical students, and residents who were saying "Wow, I didn't think anyone thought of the situation the same way we do who has a sense of humor," and a lot said thanks for doing this. I didn't think it would be this rewarding, but I found what I had lost in the connection at work suddenly came back to me on a huge level. I got involved in the social media aspects of it, and I found the community of physicians online to be incredibly helpful, receptive, inclusive.

—Chelsea Rice

Reprint HLR0313-12


This article appears in the March 2013 issue of HealthLeaders magazine.


Chelsea Rice is an associate editor for HealthLeaders Media.
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