TikTok sensation Dr. Glaucomflecken uses humour to highlight the “unique” experience of residency
Power dynamics and relationships are the themes that fuel Dr. Will Flanary, the comedian behind the satirical ophthalmologist
Comedy has been a continuous thread throughout the life of ophthalmologist Will Flanary, MD. He started performing standup in high school, then in college and medical school for beer money, but he had to wind down due to the demands of residency and juggling a young family. Then at 25, a diagnosis of testicular cancer and its subsequent treatment led him back to comedy writing as a way to foster joy during a difficult time.
Enter Dr. Glaucomflecken. For the last five years, he has gained an impressive following on TikTok, poking fun at the absurdities of medical life.
Dr. Flanary (and Dr. Glaucomflecken!) will be a plenary speaker at the virtual International Conference on Residency Education from October 20-22, discussing the role humour plays in medicine and how physicians can use this valuable tool.
The creative process
Dr. Flanary describes the process of developing his videos as very organic, with a “running list of 3-4 ideas” in his head, then figuring out how to build jokes around them to make a minute-long skit. He shoots his TikTok videos around his work schedule and family life, aiming for new content twice a week.
“I definitely enjoy making videos. The reason I got into TikTok is because I was starting to get kind of bored with Twitter. Attention spans are just getting shorter and shorter, especially when it comes to social media, so I think [TikTok is] the perfect format for what I’m doing.”
His characters, which include an unsure resident with dozens of questions, a mountain biking surgeon and a forgotten radiologist who lives in the hospital basement, have resonated with specialists worldwide due to the timelessness of his stereotypes.
“It’s really remarkable that nothing in medicine ever changes. You usually have the same types of people gravitating to Neurology or surgery no matter where you are.”
The sweet spot for his comedy is presenting the residency experience and the relationships between specialists. It’s an opportunity to shed light on the hierarchy and power dynamics within medicine.
“Residency is such a unique situation. You’ve just became a doctor, you’re learning constantly, you work long hours and you are powerless,” he explains. “In this insurmountable situation, humour allows you to gain some semblance of control by laughing and making jokes. I’m just playing off of all those experiences. It’s well received because it’s such a universal experience going through medical training.”
Comedy meets #MedEd
Conference speaking opportunities snowballed when Dr. Flanary revealed himself as the man behind Dr. Glaucomflecken. Conferences allow him to adapt his education-based comedy to a new audience of academics and to make learning fun with material that can otherwise be dry. While virtual events have expanded the kinds of conferences he usually does, he misses the energy of meeting people at live events.
On top of his TikTok videos and conference work, Dr. Flanary raises money, with help from his social media followers, for First Descents, a non- profit which provides life-changing outdoor adventures for young adults impacted by cancer and other serious health conditions. After surviving a second bout of cancer (as well as a cardiac arrest at the age of 34), Dr. Flanary is passionate about giving back to First Descents.
“This small organization made a huge impact in my recovery from an emotional and mental standpoint,” he explains. “I love being able to get the word out about them, as well as raising awareness about cardiac arrest in young people.
“You know, I’d much rather not keep trying to, you know, die.”