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Illustration of Mike Evans with speech bubble:
Courtesy of Mike Evans/Illustration by Liisa Sorsa

YouTube’s Favourite Doctor

Prof. Michael Evans' videos on health are viral sensations

The cartoon face sports a gap-toothed grin and hardly any hair. “I look like Skeletor!” laughs Dr. Michael Evans, a professor in the department of family medicine and public health. This is his alter ego: Dr. Mike, whose short videos on exercise, smoking, stress, acne and more have become YouTube sensations.

Dr. Mike sprang from Evans’ research at U of T: he conducted trials on how to summarize medical evidence for a general audience. “We found that multi-faceted approaches work best,” he says. “So I started Mini-Med School in 2003.” The U of T lecture series features experts explaining medical topics for a lay audience – with interactive elements such as question periods or interviews with actors playing patients.

The advent of social media provided a new creative outlet for Evans. In 2011, he hired a professional artist and film producer and, in December, uploaded 23 and 1/2 Hours: What is the single best thing we can do for our health? Charming comic book–style illustrations race across the screen as Dr. Mike’s laid-back voice-over makes the case for exercise. “I had no social media plan,” says Evans. “I sent it to my hockey team. We had 340 views and I was feeling pretty proud, and then a few days later it went to 17,000 views.”

Although Evans can’t pinpoint why the video took off so quickly, he did do “a bit of an autopsy” on his viral hit. Visual learning seems important, plus the storytelling approach. “And I’m not ramming it down people’s throats, that they have to do this. It’s sort of like, well, here’s the evidence.”

The dozen films at the DocMikeEvans channel on YouTube now get upwards of 600,000 views a month. Along with cartoons and charts, sound effects add to the mix: teens scream as an acne monster stalks the land, while crunching and munching underscore a comment about diet. Other topics include concussions, diabetes and smoking, and he has plenty more planned: “back pain, weight, memory…”

“I used to brag that 400 people attended Mini-Med School,” marvels Evans. With 23 and 1/2 Hours way past three million views, this benign and friendly Skeletor is clearly master of the YouTube universe.

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