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Interview: Zubin Damania MD aka ZDoggMD

Zdogg MDInterview with hard-rhymin rapper and hospitalist Zubin Damania MD (ZDogg MD) Slightly funnier than pacebo.

Did you ever wonder what kind of doctor you were going to be when you grew up? A hard-rapping stand up comic hospitalist with a penchant for drafting lyrics like, "I remembered she's demented with a nasty case of C.diff", and "I got one glove like Michael Jackson, but it's made of latex and it's your prostate I'm waxin'!" or calling Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz 'Sucker MDs' might not be it.

But that's exactly what Zubin Damania MD does, and it's worked.

Zubin started out as a mullet-wearing, Costco card carrying rockabilly and ended up (so far) working as a hospitalist at Stanford and making video satire with his pediatrician buddy Dr. Harry on (winner of the MedGadget Best New Weblog of 2010) as well as writing for Freelance MD. You can read all of Zubin's posts on Freelance MD here.

In this interview, Zubin discusses where he started and puts his current practice as well as his passion for combining entertainment and patient education in clear perspective.

ZDogg MD

ZDogg MD Video: Doctors Today


Interview with ZDoggMD

Part 1: Where did you come from?

In this video: oranges, UC Berkeley, UCSF, Stanford, Costco, physician parents, residency, Gastroenterology, feculent smelling burp juice, working for someone else, hospitalist, comedy, UCSF graduation speech, slightly funnier than placebo, youtube.


Part 2: Why are you doing what you're doing?

In this video: passion, entrepreneurship, opportunity, preventing ulcer disease, safe sex, physician burnout, testicular self exam, megalomania.


Part 3: What advice would you give to medstudents?

In this video: medical school advice, who you are, niches in medicine, pressure, jerks and homeless patients, kids, purpose and passion, picking a specialty, residency, real doctors, friends and rectums, vasovagal party jokes.


Part 4: What mistakes have you made and learned from?

In this video: Mistakes,, Mike Cadogan, wasting time, making money, cynicism, jerks, doctors and credibility, Osamacare, targeting your audience, standup comedy, hearing aids and dying onstage.


Techcrunch Interview (includes Hemorrhoid rap!)

In this video from Techcrunch Rhymes and Medicine: Hemorrhoid rap, Snoop Dog, Tony Hsieh, Zappos, Delivering Happiness, educating, Youtube, unprofessional behavior, a human face on medicine, internet patients and Google, medical technology, iPad, medicines culture of unhappiness.

Like this interview with ZDoggMD? Leave your thoughs in the comments below.

Interview with Dr. Zubin Damania - Transcript

So Hi everyone! My name is Zubin Damania. MD and I'm a doctor and a hospitalist and I also have an alter-ego named ZDoggMD (west west!), who makes silly videos online among other things. I've been asked to answer some questions about what it's like doing what i do.

A little bit about my background, I grew up in the Central Valley of California where it was hot and I actually grew up in an orange orchard. Even if my parents where physicians, they have this 2 1/2 acres of orange trees when they moved in to Central Valley to start a private practice because in those days it's pretty cheap to do that. So I used to dig ditches… we had geese, we had chickens, all those stuff. It was, in retrospect, probably the highlight of my life, but I didn't have a farmer stand and that pretty much extended to 365 days a year and to this day I have trouble with the back of my neck, pretty leathery.

Moving on, I ended up escaping going to Berkley actually where I majored in Music and Molecular Biology, and the music part I really want to be a rockstar. That was my goal. I was listening to Rush all the time. I was going to be the next Alex Lifeson from Rush, that was my goal. I even grew my mullet, I have Costco membership card from those days where I've got this incredible mullet. Here's the thing, if you're going to be a rockstar, it probably doesn't increase your street credit to have a Costco membership card when you're 18. It just kind of took some of the edge away. But I quickly figured out that I had neither the talent nor the drive to be a rockstar, but I did have this aptitude for science which pretty much propelled me into medical school like the UCSF.

Both my parents being physicians, they actually warned me time and time again, "don't do this." Actually my dad would say, because he's Indian, "Don't be doing medicine; You don't get paid to think, you get paid to do something." I thought doctors didn't do something. I guess they write notes and stuff and fill up papers so they'll do something. So I ended up going to UCSF and finishing and doing my residency at Stanford in Internal Medicine and my plan that time was to do Gastroenterology because I thought it was just really cool, you know it's like flying the trench in Star Wars or something, trying to get to the palm. Problem is the rotation I realized no, it's not that cool at all, in fact it's freaking disgusting. I don't if you guys have been in a colonoscopy room and a patient actually burps up like feculent smelling burp juice--no, not for ZDogg, okay.

I don't know if I have a bit of a crisis of confidence, second year of residency I ended up scrubbing plans to do a fellowship and took a year off after finishing residency and worked for a couple of start-ups which were medically related. I realized a couple of things, I met a lot of cool people, I realized there's a big brighter world outside of medicine, so I realized that working for someone else really hard is not a lot of fun and if I was going to do that, I want to actually see patients because I missed it, actually missed the excitement of being in the hospital, being able to make medical decisions. So, I ended up coming back to Stanford Hospital in 2003 and I've been working there ever since in a full time capacity.

A question that came up is what did I start ZDoggMD, what is all that?

Well, ZDoggMD is kind of my alter-ego. Ever since I was a kid I've been into sort of comedy and parody and music and ZDoggMD is a great way to integrate all of those. I've always been a fan of Weird Al and like we would do parody songs that were completely stupid. We did the class play in medical school. Then I gave a graduation speech in 1999 from UCSF that I put online and it got all these views and I was thinking: Wow! It really seemed to resonate with people who kind of like went through all these specialists and what's silly about them and everything. So I thought, hey maybe I might be just ever so slightly funnier than Placebo; maybe I should actually make videos, and that actually became my tag line--Slightly Funnier Than Placebo--and put them on YouTube and see what happens and the rest kind of went from there.

So why am I doing what I'm doing with ZDoggMD?

Being in hospital medicine for a while, I felt, you know, "is this really who I am?" "is this my passion?" "Can i get passionate about DVT Prophylaxis and quality improvement in the hospital?" Come on!

Some people are passionate about them, don't get me wrong, but it was not my thing. I felt like a cug in this assembly line sort of thing. The parts of the job that I really like were connecting with patients and educating and interacting with everybody. Kind of in real time making jokes, having to captive audience of house staff that had to laugh at my jokes so they could get good evaluations. That was the good part of the job. The bad part was I felt like, gosh I'm really not doing my passion, I feel something's missing that I should be doing. I felt like that the whole time I was practicing. I actually have an entrepreneur friend who sort of encouraged me and say: why don't you try to pursue something that you like? It doesn't matter what it is, don't worry about making money, just do it and see what happens and opportunity will find you. That was a very good advice so I ended up I got a cheapo camera--in fact here it is---put it in the backyard and this is my little home office and there's like a green screen and some really cheesy stuff, some costumes. I just started shooting videos and put them up on YouTube. My goal was to educate primarily so we did a video on preventing ulcer disease, we did a video on safe sex, we did a video on vaccinations and they're all there in our list of videos in YouTube or on my website, The hope is to educate while entertaining and having a good time. And also, part of our goal when we focus on physicians for our videos is to sort of lessen the bite of burnout because we're all burned out to some degree, especially us in the hospitals game. My buddy Dr. Harry used the videos, too. He's a pediatrician, I mean burnout is a serious problem and anything we do to make people laugh seems to help. The feedback I got from it has been really incredible. Actually we did a video about preventing testicular self exam to Michael Jackson's Man in the Mirror called "Manhood in the Mirror," and i got an email from somebody who runs that video on, repeat in their college health clinic waiting room and a kid, a young man actually came in because he saw the video and he did the self-exam and found a lump and turns out he has a testicular cancer that they were able to catch early. If that's the only story i ever hear, and it's not, I would be very thrilled like it was worth doing the whole thing to me and it's something that I'm passionate about. Plus, I’m a megalomaniac. I just love people watching my videos. Is that so wrong? Is that? Just love me, okay? Just love me.

What do I wish I'd known in medical school and what advice would I give to medical students to make their lives easier?

Okay Number 1, try to figure out who the heck you are. Are you the type of person who loves to work as part of a group, who likes to go at pep rallies in high school and like "Go Team!" and you would really kind of like to further the goals of an organization as part of a bigger picture. There are the certain medical options that are open to you. If you're the type of person who is sitting in the corner, rocking back and forth, making weird drawings and playing Dungeons and Dragons dice because you're afraid that the jocks are going to kick your butt at the pep rallies, I'm not saying that was anybody I know myself. Then you may not be fit for that kind of thing. So much of medicine these days as practiced as part of the big group and it's almost in assembly line kind of thing, you do your part. If that's not really for you, you really have to decide you know who you are and what you need and then you can start pursuing what you want because there is a niche in medicine for everybody. It doesn't have to be in clinical medicine, of course, but it's there. So you've got to know yourself first. Figure that out. I know that's easy to say but you've got to do that.

The second thing is don't listen to anybody else because all your classmates are crazy. Okay, that's just a fact.

And then third, don't let anyone pressure you. If you're doing stuff you don't really, you're not really interested in.

I remember there was a lot of pressure in the homeless clinic when we're in UCSF. All the students did homeless clinic. I think I was one of the three people who didn't do homeless clinic. I just didn't have the desire to do homeless clinic. Don't do stuff you don't want to do. Stay true to who you are and what you want to do. I happen to be a jerk so I didn't want to see homeless patients. Is that so wrong?

And then have a lot of fun because once you have kids and you get a job, it's over. I’m just kidding. But, remember the other things that, you know when you get into medical school, you worry about how much money I'm going to make--money is not the issue. It's really are you doing something that makes you feel like you're part of a larger purpose. Are you doing your passion and then the money stuff will always come. You don't have to worry about that. So that's another thing. Don't pick especially based on pay. Pick it on, is it your passion, is it what you want to do. And if none of these specialists are, maybe you should go to entrepreneurial round and do something else with your degree. One of the pieces of advice I will give you that could make your career better after school, make sure to do a residency. I really firmly believe that. I think so many doors would have closed to me if I hadn't done my residency and I found that I was much more marketable later for having done all that, for being a legitimate doctor. I know that there's a lot of MDs out there who have never gone to residencies, I'm going to tell you right now, you're not a doctor. I'm just saying that. Having gone through it and done clinical medicine, I am a doctor. You have a doctorate in medicine but you're not really a doctor. So if it's something, you know that's fitting your goals, I really would say do your residency, even if you plan never practice clinical medicine. Residency has gotten so crushed these days with all kinds of rules, you have nothing to lose.

Another piece of advice that I would give to medical students is keep your friends that are outside of medicine and keep them close to you because they keep you from going crazy. Plus, you know you want those guys around because they didn't love to hear your stories about stuff you pull out of people's rectums. I would always tell stories about we had an x-ray, it's just this blurry and this over disguise rectum sigmoid, we tried to figure out what it was when we pulled it out. It was actually a dildo wrapped in foil that was still vibrating and that was causing the blur. I mean, man one time at a wedding actually all my medical people actually are entrepreneurs, I told the story on the big circular table, probably 15 people at the reception, about this difficult rectal exam or something I forgot the exact details, but I heard this (made a sound), I looked over, some dude hit the deck. I actually caused a non-medical guide to vasovagal at a wedding. Everybody comes running over. I'm just seating there, I'm like nothing, am I the only doctor here? It was unbelievable. Keep the non-medical angle close. It's key and it keeps you sane and it also opens opportunities that are outside of the box of the medicine. very important, very important advice.

What mistakes did I make trying to start this ZDoggMD thing?

Well, the first mistake you can make is trying to get too involved in technicalities. Don't worry about it. In fact, the best thing you can do is find somebody who knows what they're doing and just get them to help you online. The beautiful thing about social media-- Facebook, Twitter, all that stuff, blogs--is that you're going to meet like-minded people even doing medical stuff and they're going to teach you. I met a guy who runs a blog called, he's name is Mike Cadogan. Unbelievably, pretty much designed my website, helped me with all the social media stuff. It was amazing. I learned a lot about video stuff and everything from reading online forums. So don't hesitate to go out and get help because if you don't do that, you'll spend a lot of time wasting time setting up blogspot account and trying to put Google ads everywhere. The second thing you've got to remember is you're not going to make tons of money doing what you're passionate about right away, but that's okay. I was thinking, oh I have all these viewers and it's going to be so great. It's so cool really to build up viewers and subscriptions and Facebook fans and all that it takes time and still taking time to work in progress. If it's something you love to do, it will happen and you keep doing it, and you won't worry about that stuff. Another thing is don't let too much cynicism, sort of sneaking. You always want to remember you have a personal brand and you're always trying to kind of keep that image intact. You don't want people to think you're a jerk or overly-cynical or whatever. So if you're commenting on forums, you're doing things like that, you know what I'm very pro-vaccine so i found myself often arguing on forums with anti-vaccine lunatics, and they are not lunatics but I would get a little emotional and say things I always regret it. It tarnishes the brand; you don't want to do it. You want to convince them properly make your point. And remember always you're a doctor so you want to maintain a certain medical credibility. So that's an important mistake I once made and if since not made very often, although I'm always guilty of doing stupid things--especially making a video called "OsamaCare." That was dicey you should check it out.

One story I can tell you, make sure that you know who you're targeting with whatever it is you're doing. If you don't know that, you're going to have run to difficulties. For example I've started to do this speaking circuit type of thing and it was a lot of fun doing stand-up comedy for medical audiences. It's a freaking blast. The trick is one of the transplant surgeons in Stanford asked me to do a talk for a surgical society in San Francisco and he's like: "Oh it'll be great, there'll be 40 doctors up in the city. It'll be really nice!" So I prepared this talk, it's quite cynical works really well with residence and all the medical types people in my group always kills, bits that just kills. I went up there. Every single one of these doctors was like 90 years old, has hearing aid. I met one of them and he was like: (made a sound) "I hope you don't mind if I walk out of your talk." And I said, oh yeah why wouldn't I mind if you did that. And he said, "Well I just had my prostate removed and I'm here still having trouble your urination." Oh my God! Oh my God! This is not going to do well. And Lo and behold, it was unmitigated disaster. Although I have footages of that but I'm still just waiting for the right time to spring it on the world but it was awesome! It was like you're in crickets. So know who you are and try to focus on that because if you get it wrong, you're in for some unpleasant surprises. Anyways, that's all I have to say. Thanks for listening to me, Zubin Damania, ZDoggMD.

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