66°F
weather icon Mostly Cloudy

Las Vegas’ ZDogg MD hopes viral videos will change our approach to health care

Updated May 6, 2017 - 3:14 pm

The table is barren save for the highly trained medical professional hip-thrusting atop it, rapping about apple-bottom scrubs and fur-lined Crocs.

“We put a disco ball right there,” says Dr. Zubin Damania (aka “ZDoggMD”) after a brief salvo of sing-songy rhymes, surveying a room where a nurse once pole-danced around an IV stand for a video shoot. “It was dope. Until we set off the fire alarm.”

It was in this space, the now-empty offices of the Turntable Health clinic in downtown Las Vegas, that ZDoggMD, the “Weird Al” Yankovic of medicine, filmed the clip for his parody of Flo Rida’s “Low,” which he transformed from a club-worthy ode to booty-dropping honeys to a club-worthy ode to outpatient clinic workers.

Wearing faux dreads and a gleaming grill in said video, Damania turns the song’s mildly titillating original lyrics (“She turned around and gave that big booty a smack”) into a far-less-than-titillating rundown of a nurse’s day-to-day duties (“Turned around and gave that big booty a pap”) as various health professionals mean mug the camera and gyrate to the beat.

The video is but one of dozens that Damania has produced in the past few years, ranging from Taylor Swift parodies about prescription drug abuse (“Blank Script”) to serious ruminations regarding end-of-life care (“Ain’t the Way to Die,” a play on Eminem and Rihanna’s “Love the Way You Lie”) to wonky reimaginings of Garth Brooks hits (“Friends With Low Plateletes”), which contains the immortal, karoake-killing couplet, “Ohhh, I’m not big on thrombopoiesis / Think I’ll skip on down to plasmapheresis.”

They’ve helped ZDoggMD become one of the medical profession’s biggest internet phenomenons, with nearly 500,000 followers on Facebook, whose videos have racked up millions of views, who’s become such an in-demand speaker at medical conferences, he’s got gigs booked all over the country through November.

He has hundreds of thousands of converts, many of them medical professionals from here to … you name the state, Damania has fans there.

“I share most of his videos with my peers, because they’re hilarious and educational,” says Sharon Cranford Boyd, a registered nurse in North Carolina for 25 years. “I’ve shared a couple with patients as an educational tool — testicular self exams for the younger men — and they loved it.”

Adds Marie Stephanie Lapid, a registered nurse at Desert Springs Hospital Medical Center who appeared in the “Low” video: “I think Zubin’s music videos are a great outlet for the medical community, because he says things that we’ve always wanted to say to patients or administration.”

All this from a man willing to dress in drag to make a point about the harmful effects of UV rays on one’s skin and who has authored a song titled “Nothing Compares 2 Poo.”

The laughs are a means to a bigger end: ZDoggMD’s ultimate goal is to use his music to help transform the way we approach medicine.

“We need re-personalized care where we’re paid for actual outcomes, where we work as a team, where the human relationship is at the center,” he says. “We’re paid to do things to people instead of for people, and we’re powerless. Patients need to hear that we’re humans. The hope is the music will be a vehicle to trigger a movement and change.”

If this seems an overly ambitious aim, well, what are the odds that a frustrated doctor on the edge of burnout would become an internet sensation, racking up YouTube views at a pace normally reserved for viral novelties starring techno vikings and dancing hamsters?

And yet, this is what ZDoggMD’s done, one poop joke at a time.

A Dogg is born

In a crowded Summerlin cafe, Damania sings of grabbing his crotch as clearly and freely as the table next to him orders their lunch.

Looking like a bald, hoodie-wearing Michael Jackson, he recites a few lines from his testicular-self-examination anthem, “Manhood in the Mirror.” The reworking of Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” is one of Damania’s earlier videos, released in late 2010.

He slips in and out of character so frequently — and seamlessly — it becomes evident that ZDoggMD is less a persona than a natural, undistilled expression of who Damania is.

Seldom can the man contain himself — he’s a blur of one-liners and bouncing-off-the-walls energy, equating his personality to that abdomen-exploding space thingy in “Alien,” something that defies human confinement.

By the time Damania was in his early 30s and got hired at Stanford, where he did his residency, he was already feeling the strain of trying to be the buttoned-down, stern-talking, authoritative presence that doctors have traditionally been expected to be.

For Damania, playing that role was an unnatural, suffocating feeling. A people person to the bone, he wanted a connection with those he was treating, not professional detachment.

He started to feel like an impostor.

“I got very sad and had that early middle-aged crisis at 35,” he acknowledges.

And so he turned to the same thing that helped him as a kid: music.

“Someone asked me, ‘What would you do if you could do anything you wanted to do?’ ” recalls Damania, a family man with kids who’s married to a fellow medical professional. “And I was like, ‘Make parody music that would educate people about medical stuff.’ So the guy said, ‘Well, there’s YouTube, just go do that.’ ”

With that, ZDoggMD was born.

The persona enables Damania to give voice to all the things that he couldn’t at his day job, to call out the bureaucracy of the industry, the bottom-line-first mentality that he saw as being far too prevalent in his field, the stifling of individuality in favor of sticking to proscribed roles.

“ZDoggMD was like my id for a long time,” he says. “He was the guy who could say those things that you would normally get in trouble for saying.”

Every Dogg has his day

The lid has been pried off an economy-sized can of stupid.

Back at Turntable Health, where Damania was CEO and founder, lured to Vegas in 2012 by Tony Hsieh’s Downtown Project to start the clinic before it closed in January after three years, he and his crew are filming a skit where Doc Vader has left his lightsaber in a patient’s posterior.

“I’ve been here 30 years, I’ve seen everything in the rectum,” Damania assures a Vader in denial, who, for this shoot, is being portrayed by actor-director Tom Hinueber, a bear-sized dude who has to practically shoehorn himself into Damania’s “Star Wars” costume.

The bit is a play on the climactic scene from “Good Will Hunting,” where Robin Williams’ therapist character consoles a teary-eyed Matt Damon.

“It’s not your fault,” Damania tells the soon-to-be-sobbing archvillain. “It’s not your fault.”

Afterward, Damania and Hinueber giggle constantly while assessing each take like a couple of coaches breaking down game film.

“This is the beauty of having a show,” Damania says. “It’s a container of stupidity.”

Maybe so, but as with pretty much everything else he does, there’s a point behind the punch lines, some real sentiment to go with the fake get-ups.

“When doctors make mistakes, they have no one to turn to,” he explains of the video’s larger message. “They can’t tell their colleagues, because they feel like they’re going to be judged. So if another colleague’s coming up, like, ‘It’s not your fault,’ it’s a hugely powerful thing.”

Shooting clips like these has become a full-time thing for this bunch, whose productions have grown so popular, they now have some of them paid for by various sponsors in sync with ZDoggMD’s message (their clip for ZDoggMD’s take on Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” was financed by an electronic health records company).

Damania says he’s turned down offers from companies whose products he doesn’t endorse, like a vape pen manufacturer, as well as various drug companies.

“The Doctor Ozs and those guys, they’re board-certified physicians too, but once they start selling (crap) on TV, they lose credibility,” Hinueber says. “We don’t ever want to do that.”

What they do want to do is keep growing and laughing, if not necessarily in that order.

Time will tell if Damania will be able to change the industry the way he envisions.

But at least one thing will never be the same: the man beneath the blond Taylor Swift wig.

“In 2010, I was a type-A, high-strung, achievement-oriented, typical Bay Area doctor,” he says. “In 2017, I travel around the country intuitively feeling that we’re part of a wave of change that’s going to transform and re-humanize an industry. And that transformation never would have occurred had I not put that first video on YouTube.”

Contact Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476. Follow @JasonBracelin on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Entertainment Videos
Heavier traffic expected from EDC festival attendees
Electric Daisy Carnival attendees began to vacate the Las Vegas Motor Speedway starting before 5 a.m., the majority heading south on Interstate 15.
What it's like to skip the lines and fly by helicopter to EDC
What it's like to skip the lines and fly by helicopter to EDC. (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
DJ Steve Aoki visits Las Vegas comic book store
DJ Steve Aoki visits Torpedo Comics in Las Vegas Friday, May 17, 2019, for a signing for his new comic book series "Neon Future." (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Las Vegas Smith & Wollensky opens at The Venetian
After 18 years, the Smith & Wollensky location on Las Vegas’ south Strip closed in 2017, to be re-born two years later with a rib-cutting — instead of a ribbon-cutting — in The Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal)
Colin Cantwell, Creator Of Iconic Star Wars Ships Visits Vegas
Colin Cantwell, who created and designed such "Star Wars" ships as the X-Wing fighter, and Death Star, met fans at Rogue Toys in Las Vegas today. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Beauty & Essex in Las Vegas makes an EDC Wonder Wheel
In honor of the Electric Daisy Carnival, Beauty & Essex at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas makes its Wonder Wheel party-worthy. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Giada talks Vegas Uncork’d
Giada De Laurentiis talks during Aperitivo Hour, a Vegas Uncork'd event, at her Caesars Palace restaurant, Pronto, May 10, 2019. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Scenes from Vegas Uncork’d 2019 on the Las Vegas Strip
The 13th edition of Vegas Uncork’d by Bon Appetit brought four days of food, wine, celebrity chefs and parties to town, May 9-12. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Three ingredients Gordon Ramsay can’t live without
Bon Appetit's Andy Baraghani interviews the "Hell's Kitchen" chef during a Vegas Uncork'd event at Caesars Palace, May 11, 2019. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Vegas Uncork’d launches wiith bubbles and a blade
Dozens of chefs representing some of the Strip’s top restaurants gathered Thursday at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas to launch the 2019 edition of Vegas Uncork’d by Bon Appetit. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bunky the Clown at the clown convention
Bob "Bunky the Clown" Gretton talks about his life as a clown and the Clown Convention which was in Las Vegas at Texas Station this week. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Frying soft-shell crab at Lola’s in Las Vegas
At Lola’s: A Louisiana Kitchen in Las Vegas, soft-shell crab is breaded and fried and served either as an appetizer, po’boy or platter. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal
The Stove in Henderson makes Pecan Pie Pancakes
At The Stove in Henderson, chef/partner Antonio Nunez stacks buttermilk pancakes with pecans and dulce de leche and tops them pie crust crumbs. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Vinnie Paul remembered at Count's Vamp'd
The late rocker's favorite table at one of his favorite clubs in Las Vegas. (Jason Bracelin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
4DX movie experience at Red Rock
4DX movie experience during a demo reel at Red Rock. (Christopher Lawrence/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
What To Do On May The 4th
There are plenty of events going on May the 4th this year around Las Vegas. Celebrate Star Wars and Comic Book Day all at once. The Rogue Toys, the 501st, Rebel Legion and Millennium Fandom Bar are all hosting fun events to help celebrate your geek-dom. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Las Vegas Water Sports Introduces New Attraction At Lake Las Vegas
Las Vegas Water Sports will debut its new aqua park attraction at Lake Las Vegas Days this weekend. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Making the Space Invader at Greene St. Kitchen in Las Vegas
Lysa Huerta, pastry cook at Greene St. Kitchen at the Palms in Las Vegas, starts with angel food cake, Fruity Pebbles ice cream and strawberry sorbet to create a space creature engulfed in flashing lights and swirling mists. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas Pools
The M, Park MGM and NoMad are just a few great pools in Las Vegas. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Jose Andres explains Iberico pork
(Al Mancini/Las Vega Review-Journal)
Inside Life is Beautiful
Craig Asher Nyman explains how Life is Beautiful festival is booked and talks about this year's line-up. (Jason Bracelin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Tattoo'd America Pops Up In Vegas
Tattoo'd America, a new pop-up attraction on the Linq Promenade, had their grand opening Friday. The attraction is dedicate to the culture of tattoos. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Jose Andres gets key to the Strip
Chef Jose Andres was presented with a Key to the Las Vegas Strip and a proclamation declaring April 26 Jose Andres Day in Clark County by County Commissioner Tick Segerblom on Friday. The ceremony took place at his restaurant Bazaar Meat in the SLS Las Vegas. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Sadelle’s in Las Vegas makes a grilled cheese with an inverted bagel
Michael Vargas, executive sous chef at Sadelle’s at Bellagio in Las Vegas, inverts an everything bagel and grills it with Swiss, cheddar and Muenster cheeses to make the Inverted Bagel Grilled Cheese. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Learn how to make China Poblano's Salt Air Margarita
Learn how to make China Poblano's Salt Air Margarita (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Tattoo'd America invites you to have fun and take pictures
Kassandra Lopez at Tattoo'd America invites you to have fun and take pictures. (Janna Karel/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Prime rib is carved tableside at Lawry’s The Prime Rib in Las Vegas
Dave Simmons, executive chef of Lawry’s The Prime in Las Vegas, which plans special cuts for National Prime Rib Day, demonstrates the restaurant’s service from rolling tableside carving carts. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Making gluten-free pizza at Good Pie in Las Vegas
Good Pie owner/pizzaiola Vincent Rotolo makes his gluten-free pizza.
Rockabilly fans enjoy Las Vegas weather poolside
Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekender runs Thursday, April 18th through Sunday, April 21st with a huge car show on Saturday featuring The Reverend Horton Heat, The Delta Bombers and The Coasters. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Brownie sundae at VegeNation in Las Vegas is completely vegan
Donald Lemperle, chef/owner of VegeNation in Las Vegas and nearby Henderson, NV, makes his sundae with ice cream made with coconut and almond milks, a brownie made with coconut flour and oil and organic sugar and cacao, and fresh fruit. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
THE LATEST
Shock program rids your pool of yellow algae

If your pool water has gone from clear to yellow, you probably have yellow algae. The pool store will have chemicals to treat the water. When used with super-chlorination, products such as Yellow Out will kill yellow algae.