When I call up Michael Salzhauer, aka Dr. Miami, aka “the most famous surgeon in America,” he’s in the middle of administering a COVID-19 antibody test to one of his employees. That’s because as of this past Monday, he’s officially back to work at his Bal Harbour, Florida practice (with a litany of expanded precautions and patient screenings).
But even if you’re not one of Dr. Miami’s legions of social media followers—where over a million fans watch him livestream tummy tucks and Brazilian butt lifts from his OR—you’ve probably seen him on reality shows like Teen Mom and Love & Hip Hop, in music videos, or heard him name-dropped by everyone from Future to Rick Ross, as he’s become hip-hop shorthand for plastic surgery. “A lot of times, people will go, ‘Dr. Miami’s a real person?’ ” He laughs. “They thought I was like the Easter Bunny.”
Now he’s the focus of a new documentary premiering in Canada on CBC as part of Hot Docs at Home, after the festival was postponed due to the ongoing pandemic. They Call Me Dr. Miami explores the seeming contradiction between the plastic surgeon’s larger-than-life social media persona and comparatively low-key home life (Salzhauer’s a father of five and practicing Orthodox Jew). Complex spoke to Dr. Miami about the new documentary, hanging with 2 Chainz in his operating room, and how he’s been handling—and livestreaming—quarantine.
How are you doing? It’s a strange time to be promoting a movie right now, I’m sure.
Hang on one second, I’m actually interpreting a fingerstick test for an employee here, for COVID… Sorry! Yeah. Crazy times. It’s just incredible what’s happened with this COVID-19. It was definitely not on my list of things I was worrying about at the beginning of the year. Then it was like, “Oh! The plague.”
One of my good friends lives in Miami. He was just telling me that Miami-Dade County has started reopening.
We’re about to open up on Monday. We actually have environmental people here cleaning everything—sorry, I’m going to take my mask off so you can hear me—washing every surface in the entire building with some kind of strong antiviral disinfectant. So that’s what we’re doing. We’re preparing to open up on Monday for the first time since March.
Luckily, you kind of have a second job though with Snapchat. Have you been more or less active on social media since this all started?
Definitely less. My social media persona, it’s very fun and light and fluffy… It’s very hard for me to feel that [right now]. Everybody knows somebody who’s died. At least where I live. Everybody knows somebody who’s sick. Everybody knows somebody who’s out of work, everybody knows somebody who’s down. And it’s really hard for me to channel light and fluffy social media stuff. The first couple weeks, I did a lot of educational stuff on COVID-19, but then after two or three weeks, there’s nothing more you can say. How many times can you tell people, “Social distancing, wash your hands”? So I laid low. I did some TikToks with the kids at home and that’s basically it. I did a fundraiser; we raised $10,000 for COVID-19 relief. But to just go back and pretend like everything’s normal? You can’t do that.
"I had 2 Chainz in my operating room. He said, ‘Can I watch a butt lift?’ And I asked the patient, ‘Do you mind if 2 Chainz watches your butt lift?’"
Do you think that people who only know you from your Snapchat are going to be surprised at all by the person they see in this documentary?
I don’t think so! [Laughs.] I really don’t. Look, you know how there’s always that headline like, “Florida Man”? I think people are not surprised by anything anybody from Florida does. ‘He’s like this clown, but he’s also this serious surgeon and he’s also this religious Jew. Yeah, okay. That makes sense.’ I don’t think people will be terribly shocked. And people who’ve been following my social media from the very beginning, they’ve seen some of this before. I’ve shown them Jewish holidays from the inside. I just put my daughter’s wedding in Jerusalem on Snapchat and Instagram. So they’ve seen that religious side of me. I’ve done brises on social media. If they follow it closely, they’ll know it.
You’ve been name-dropped in songs by Snoop, 2 Chainz, Wiz Khalifa. Have you actually met any of these guys, or is that just from being part of the pop culture zeitgeist?
I had 2 Chainz in my operating room. He said, ‘Can I watch a butt lift?’ And I asked the patient, ‘Do you mind if 2 Chainz watches your butt lift?’ And she’s like, ‘Oh my God, of course! Please!’ So yeah… I’m really lucky, because I’m a 48-year-old father of five. What are the odds of me meeting 2 Chainz? One of my favorite rappers is Fetty Wap. He came to visit here, and we literally sat in my sukkah—do you know what a sukkah is? For Jewish holidays? So we’re sitting in a sukkah with Fetty Wap enjoying a little snack. [Laughs.] Like, how does that happen?
I like to look on SoundCloud for new music, and sometimes I’ll get lucky and find something before the mainstream has discovered it, and then I’ll just play it over and over again on my Snapchat. For example, the great [DJ] Khaled, before he became big, I just liked his music and I would play it over and over on the Snapchat, so when he came to town—this was before he blew up—one of the first places he came to visit was my office. We just chilled and talked.
"Before Kodak went to prison, like 2016, he came to my office, high as a kite, with an entourage."
Tee Grizzley, the day he got out of prison, he recorded “First Day Out” and he put it on SoundCloud. I saw it and I played it over and over on my Snapchat. Two weeks later, he landed in Miami to talk with some record labels; he said the first person he texted when he landed was me, saying, ‘I want to thank you. The first time any girl said they heard my song, they heard it on your Snapchat. And that was the first time anybody recognized me in public and said I really like your music.’ How cool is that? I’m dating myself now, because that’s like 2017. It’s not last week. But over the years, I’ve been able to do that kind of thing…
Kodak Black has been to my office. Before Kodak went to prison, like 2016, he came to my office, high as a kite, with an entourage. We sat down, I interviewed him for my Snapchat and on my Facebook. I showed him my operating room. We continued that relationship. Even from prison, he’s texted me. Like, ‘Hey, what’s up.’
Is there anyone you’d love to have name-drop you? I saw a couple boxes of Yeezys in your office in the documentary…
I mean, if Kanye name-drops me, I’d probably take the rest of the day off. [Laughs.] That would be great. You know, the other week, they did that video… It was Lil Yachty. The video of him pretending to be Oprah. “Boprah” or something.
With Drake, yeah. And DaBaby.
In the middle of that video, there’s an interlude, like, “Everybody gets a free butt lift surgery by Dr. Fort Lauderdale. Because we can’t afford Dr. Miami. [Laughs.] They used a rip-off version of my logo, and a guy who kind of looks like me. I thought that was really cool.
Do you have any plans for what you’re going to listen to on Monday?
On Monday when I get back, it’s going to be No Music Monday. There’s no music the first day back. It’s all business. As a surgeon, I’ve never taken this much time off from operating in 20 years. Never. I know that sometimes when I come back from two weeks’ vacation, that first day, you have to shake off the cobwebs a bit and try to get back into the groove. And I’ve learned over the years from experience, that first day back from vacation, or any big break, it has to be on the money. All business. There’s very little room for error in surgery, and no matter who you are, you have to really focus that first day. But come Tuesday? I’m going to open up SoundCloud, see what’s on the new hot list and just dive right in.
They Call Me Dr. Miami is having its Canadian premiere on CBC, CBC Gem, and documentary Channel on Thursday, May 14 as part of Hot Docs at Home, and will be available online at hotdocs.ca starting May 28.