Doctor Mike: Instagram’s Favourite Medic
A long weekend in Miami with Dr Mikhail Varshavski, the physician with two million followers.
This time last year, a Buzzfeed article entitled “Um, You Really Need To See This Hot Doctor And His Dog” changed Dr Mikhail Varshavski’s life. At that point, he had just over 100,000 followers on Instagram, which he’d built organically over the previous three years through documenting his life working crazy 80- or 90-hour weeks as a well-dressed junior doctor in New Jersey, and fist-bumping Roxy, his pet husky.
“Within a week my Instagram rocketed to 750,000 followers,” the 26-year-old New Yorker recalls. “It went worldwide. I had TV stations in Japan, Germany, Norway asking for interviews.” Today, the man dubbed the “sexiest doctor alive” by People magazine has 1.9 million followers (at the time of publication), ambitions to become the next Dr Oz (TV’s go-to health expert), and is stepping out with the current Miss Universe, aka Ms Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach, whom you will recall from the most cringe-worthy TV moment of all time. The couple met via Instagram, obviously.
So you might reasonably wonder if Dr Mike, whose family emigrated to the US from Russia when he was six years old, could come across in person as a teensy bit pleased with himself. But he’s one of life’s genuinely good guys who, after a brief anatomy scan, appears to have his head screwed on, his feet on the ground and his heart in the right place. And he claims to be shy. “I’ve always been a nervous guy, afraid to talk to people,” he says. “I could never approach women in a social setting. So I decided to work on it. I read books on the subject, watched YouTube videos. In other words, I nerded myself out of being a nerd.”
He could have easily cashed in on his new-found fame. “I’ve had near million-dollar offers to talk about supplements and weight-loss pills, but that’s not what I’m about,” he says. “I have a duty to use my knowledge to explain to people what’s right. It really disturbs me to see doctors out there peddling supplements that aren’t proven.”
I’ve had near million-dollar offers to talk about supplements… but that’s not what I’m about
Instead, Dr Mike has used his profile to build a charitable foundation, Limitless Tomorrow, which gives financial support to students who might not qualify for academic scholarships. And he is trying to make the health profession more relatable and accessible to ordinary people via his work in the media and on social media.
“People have asked, ‘Are you going to quit medicine now and go into show business?’” he says. “Absolutely not. Medicine has always been my passion. If anything, this media stuff only strengthens what I am doing as a doctor and I want to incorporate it because I believe it can encourage people to get themselves checked out and look after their family’s health.”
Dr Mike lives in New York and works in New Jersey during the week, but he spends at least one weekend a month in Miami, a two-and-a-half-hour flight away, where he and his father have a beachside apartment. He invited MR PORTER to make a house call.
“This is South Beach, which is about 10 minutes from my apartment. There is a beach gym with pull-up bars and some dumbbells. I’ll often meet friends here, either early morning or early evening when it’s cooler, and then we’ll grab breakfast or a green juice afterwards at one of the sidewalk restaurants, such as News Cafe. Whenever possible, I like to exercise outdoors and with other people. It’s much harder to be lazy and skip a session if you’ve made firm arrangements with others, and you always push each other to work harder. I was painfully skinny as a kid, but now I exercise five times a week – always something different to keep it interesting. You’ve got to be in shape in Miami but also, as a doctor, I believe it’s important to set a good example. Just as you should never trust a skinny chef, it must be difficult for people to take health advice from a doctor who evidently does not look after himself.”
“Life is about maintaining balance. I work hard, but I also go out with friends as often as I can. That recharges me more than staying in and watching Netflix. A lot of junior doctors bury themselves in training and shut out the outside world, only to emerge having missed eight years of living. In terms of being able to communicate with patients, it’s important to live in the real world and I hope my Instagram account reflects that. When you wear scrubs all day at the hospital, it feels good to dress sharp to go out to an event or dinner in the evening, and this would be a typical Friday-night outfit for me. We often start with drinks or dinner at The Dutch, a favourite spot that is well located in the middle of things, on 23rd and Collins. The crowd is always cool and the oysters and seafood are great. You’ve got to try the chilli-dipped watermelon with yellowtail jalapeño sashimi. It’s incredible.”
“In New York it’s near impossible to find a tennis court, but they are everywhere in Miami. A game of tennis is a perfect way to start the day, but you’ve got to play early or it gets too hot. I wear Nike everything. I was dating a professional tennis player for a while and she got me into the game. I really only picked up a racket for the first time in April last year, but I took it seriously, hired a coach and now I play in tournaments. I’ve fallen in love with the sport and find it re-energising when I’m exhausted after a long week. I’ve got a pretty mean serve, which the photographer discovered at his cost. He caught one right in the middle of his forehead and had a big red mark for the rest of the day. But at least there was a medic on the scene to check him over.”
“The Botanical Garden is a very Zen retreat where you can escape from the hustle and bustle. It’s in an isolated part of Miami Beach where there’s not a lot of traffic. It’s very quiet and peaceful, so it’s a good place to unwind, find some shade and read a book or the weekend papers. I’ve been studying Spanish because I have a lot of Spanish-speaking patients and I want to be able to communicate better with them. Miami is a good place to practise because it has such a strong Hispanic population and culture. I’ve been trying to deny that I need reading glasses for a while now, but I love these Tom Ford frames. This is a typical weekend outfit for me – lightweight chinos with a collarless shirt worn untucked with rolled sleeves.”
“I think a lot of people imagine Miami is all about the superficial and the vacuous, but the city is culturally very rich. The art scene is huge. During Art Basel in December, it completely takes over. I always recommend visitors go and check out the street art at Wynwood Walls, for example. It really shows graffiti as an art form and it looks great on Instagram. For something more highbrow, the Pérez Art Museum is a favourite spot. I like to go when it’s not too busy, so I avoid it at the weekend. The design of the museum is a work of art in itself. This look is something different for me with the suede jacket and suede Chelsea boots, but I like the colour palette of tan brown, army green and navy.”