Leyla, a 25-year-old production and development assistant at a major film company, first heard about the Hot Doctor last November. “My friend Jessica called me and said, ‘I just went to the hottest doctor. You have to go to him!’” That was all Leyla, who requested her last name be withheld, needed to hear, until she hung up the phone and told Shan, another friend who was in the room.
Shan was not impressed. “She said, ‘My doctor’s got it all over your hot doctor.’” Leyla recalled. “So I said, ‘What’s his name?’ And she said ‘Dr. Meehan’
“I freaked out,” Leyla continued. Jessica’s doctor was named Dr. Meehan, too; Dr. Brian Meehan, to be exact. “‘Oh, my God, it’s the same guy!” Leyla recalled. “I’m definitely going to him now.”
Leyla went to meet Dr. Meehan, an internist based on lower Sixth Avenue in Soho. She immediately understood what all the fuss was about. “I just kept giggling. I was like, ‘Oh, my God, that’s my doctor? I can’t believe that that’s my doctor,’” she recalled. And that was before the examination, which Leyla said, “was pretty exciting because he had to put all these little sensors on me.”
Since her first consultation seven months ago, Leyla’s health hasn’t been what it used to be. She has had to visit Dr. Meehan at least four times. Meanwhile, she’s told all of her friends about the Hot Doctor. Those friends have told their friends, and, well, you get the picture.
Dr. Meehan won’t perform breast examinations. He won’t even prescribe birth control. Yet, he has become the physician of choice among a hard-driving, hard-bodied group of New York women in their 20′s, most of them single and many of them recent New York transplants and a little lost in the city. For more than two years, these women have been circulating Dr. Meehan’s name, number and patient-prescribed handle, “Hot Doctor,” at the same frantic pace that they share news about job tips, apartment shares and waxing salons.
Dr. Meehan’s patients rave about his bedside manner, his open good looks, the ease of getting an appointment, his office’s Hudson River view. But mostly, they giddily perpetuate what Allison Page, a 25-year-old broadcast associate at CBS Sunday Morning calls “the Hot Doctor discussion”-impromptu gatherings at which they fan the flames of his hotness and trade trivia gleaned during their consultations. Ms. Page, for instance, will never forget the first time she walked into Dr. Meehan’s office. “He was wearing linen, and he was wearing it well. And there aren’t a whole lot of guys in New York who can wear linen,” she said seriously.
When the Hot Doctor’s patients aren’t dishing about him, they are referring new patients to him. Ms. Page has recommended Dr. Meehan to 10 people. Leyla said, “I’ve recommended him to pretty much every girlfriend I have at this point.” Haleh Nazeri has done the same: “I literally recommend him to every single person I know,” she said. Indeed, after spreading the word about the Hot Doctor at her former place of employment, the Council on Foreign Relations, Ms. Nazeri has taken up the task at the Wall Street firm where she was hired in May. She’s not participating in her company’s H.M.O. because it doesn’t include him. Instead, she’ll pay 25 percent of Dr. Meehan’s fee every time she visits.
Dr. Meehan’s metamorphosis into the Hot Doctor seems to have begun, appropriately, with a patient who is the employee of a public relations firm. Patient Zero is Jennifer Petersen, an assistant controller at the P.R. and advertising firm of Sheperdson, Stern & Kaminsky. Ms. Petersen, 32, has been a patient of Dr. Meehan’s for three years. ” I am the one that picked him through our Oxford book. ” I am the one who recommended him to everybody here,” said Ms. Petersen with a proprietary laugh. She chose Dr. Meehan because he was so close to S.S.&K.’s Soho offices. She estimated that 60 percent of the firm’s 60-odd employees are Dr. Meehan’s patients, and even though some of them are men, she said, the office is full of young women (like Ms. Nazeri, who once worked there). Ms. Petersen stressed that although she may be first in the daisy chain, she’s not responsible for the “Hot Doctor” legend. “I do think he’s attractive but that’s not why I go to him,” she said. “He’s an amazing doctor.”
He’s also remarkably easy to see. Dr. Meehan can fit his patients in almost immediately. “I’m always surprised by how quickly I can get an appointment,” said Leyla, “and how few people are in the waiting room. But I’m not complaining. I feel like it makes it all the more special; it’s our little secret thing.”
Dr. Meehan’s waiting room is a lofty, pale-yellow, exposed-pipe, pen-and-ink-drawings-on-the-wall affair. His patients rhapsodize about the “great view of the Hudson” and the “warm, light wood and big beautiful windows.” Some time their appointments for optimal viewing pleasure. Ms. Nazeri said that she usually goes in the afternoon, when “the sun is setting over the Hudson.”
Ms. Paul said the office has the feel of a spa. “It’s very Pottery Barn,” she said.
“Hot … doctor!” Dr. Meehan gasped between belly laughs, when he was clued into what his female patients were saying about him. “Well, alrighty.” Dr. Meehan swallowed hard, then began laughing again.
Dr. Meehan, 36, is broad-jawed and wide-eyed. His head is topped with a thick mass of dark, tightly shorn curls. His ruddy complexion makes him look like he has really good circulation. At 6-foot-2, he is comfortably, reassuringly large. His movements are fluid, spare, confident.
Dr. Meehan sat behind his desk in his sparsely furnished office, dressed casually in a blue button-down shirt and dark pants. He didn’t squirm or look antsy when he was told about his sobriquet. He maintained eye contact without being creepy about it. He laughed lightly and looked quickly at the ceiling when embarrassed. When he was told that a number of patients think he’s foxy, Dr. Meehan crossed his arms and gave a little wave.
“Shucks,” he said.
Seven diplomas hung behind him. Dr. Meehan grew up in Nashville, went to Rhodes College in Memphis, medical school at the University of Tennessee and moved on to Yale for his internship. His residency at Mt. Sinai brought him to New York 10 years ago, and he’s been here ever since. This is his first private practice. He shares overhead costs with another internist, who owns Lizzie, the yellow Labrador that sometimes greets patients at the door.
“She’s a great doggie,” said the Hot Doctor.
Dr. Meehan explained that he did not have a hand in designing the office space, but that it’s “in concert with what I am looking to do with my practice-to steer away from old-style medicine, which is more sterile and white lab-coated and not real user-friendly.” He has long held the opinion that “a doctor should know more about a patient than [her] name or what’s written on the chart.” In that respect, he said, he wants “to be more accessible to people and more down to earth with people and I think that the physical environment suggests that.”
Dr. Meehan spends mornings as the medical director of a primary care facility that treats AIDS patients on the Lower East Side before going to his practice and treating, “on a busy day, 10 to 13 people,” in the afternoons and evenings. He estimated that he has 1,000 patients total, and though the Hot Doctor grapevine appears to be exclusively female, Dr. Meehan said that the male-to-female ratio of his practice is an even 50-50.
Though he may not have been cognizant of his Hot Doctor appellation, Dr. Meehan said that he has been “dimly” aware of the word-of-mouth way in which his practice has grown over the years. He said that he’s “stumbled onto networks of referrals recently.”
“I find it flattering and incredibly satisfying,” he said. “It’s one of the reasons I chose to become a doctor and why I want to give it my all. Because, even in New York, it’s possible to be regarded as a family doctor.”
Exuding the concerned charm and earnest enthusiasm of a suburban softball coach, Dr. Meehan said, “I love living and practicing in New York. It’s a huge challenge, but in terms of the satisfaction of being a doctor, I’m seeing a real payoff. Particularly in the last two years, I’m just feeling like, wow, I really have made a great decision for my personality.”
Dr. Meehan smiled, and it became apparent that he is actually … not that hot-at least not when held to the gold standard of Jude Law in The Talented Mr. Ripley . Dr. Meehan is more Rick Lazio-on-NY1 hunky.
Behind the simple, evocative epithet “Hot Doctor” and the fan-club behavior, there is something else, at work; something that ultimately has little to do with Dr. Meehan’s looks.
The women who elevate Dr. Meehan are baby tigers, well on their way to becoming tough New York broads. They work in hard-ass, boy-run worlds-at networks and studios and banks and magazines and international policy think tanks-where their male co-workers see them in competitive or sexual terms, or sometimes both.
The warm yellow tones of Dr. Meehan’s office offers asylum from their less-friendly feelings toward all that testosterone. “I need attention,” said Jessica Paul, 26, an assistant editor at Talk magazine, who has been Dr. Meehan’s patient for a year. “And I’ll go and see him and he’ll look at me and say, ‘How are you?’ and ‘Are you okay?’ He’ll have my chart and I know that if he hears any weird answers he’ll keep an eye on me.”
Dr. Meehan will even keep tabs on patients who are too sick to leave home. When Ms. Nazeri was bedridden with the flu, Dr. Meehan “[called] me on Saturday-on Saturday!-to see how I was feeling.” Said Ms. Page: “If you get a blood test, he calls you three days later to tell you it’s okay and he leaves his number every single time.”
Rebecca O’Brien, 24, a Fulbright scholar who’s currently completing her graduate studies at Cambridge University, sent an e-mail explaining that her previous doctor “failed miserably to listen to me, deal with me, help me feel better.” But Dr. Meehan, whom she learned about from Ms. Nazeri when they both worked at the Council on Foreign Relations, “will listen to everything you are saying without jumping in or cutting you off or making you feel like he knows better than you-all those things that women traditionally have trouble with in doctors’ offices.”
But, said Leyla, Dr. Meehan “wouldn’t provide birth control” and “that surprised me.” Still, his rather chaste range of services seems only to bolster his appeal with some patients. “He doesn’t overstep,” said Ms. Paul, who was also turned down by Dr. Meehan when she asked him for a refill of birth control pills. “He wouldn’t do it because he didn’t feel like he was qualified to do it,” she explained, adding: “I was aggravated about it at first, but then trusted him more for it because he wasn’t going to do something he didn’t feel comfortable about.”
A number of Dr. Meehan’s women patients noted that he does not reciprocate any eyelash-batting that may come his way during a consultation. “He is absolutely professional and nonflirtatious,” wrote Ms. O’Brien, who currently lives in England and hasn’t had an appointment with Dr. Meehan for almost a year. “I felt so comfortable with him because he exudes firm, masculine competence and comfort, and there is absolutely no-zip, zero-leering factor at all.”
So, it’s possible-remember Richard Chamberlain? George Clooney?-to see how Dr. Meehan’s patients could have elevated him to Hot Doctor status. He’s a man they can trust and fantasize about with no consequence; a doctor who steers clear of the types of procedures that could provoke questions; a doctor so safe that his patients can beam their most lascivious thoughts right at him and the only thing that he will offer in return is his sincere concern for their well-being.
But because this is New York and “Dr. Sensitive” doesn’t really trip off the tongue, as “Dr. Hot” does, they have recoded their warm, fuzzy feelings for maximum impact.
Dr. Meehan’s coddling is more than simple relief for these ambitious, harried ladies. Many of them said that the sense of security they find in the office gives them a sense of belonging in the city. “When I first moved here from California I was feeling very uprooted and I didn’t really feel at home,” said Ms. Nazeri. “Having a doctor I liked … made me feel more like a New Yorker.”
There’s one other thing: Being part of a group who has the Hot Doctor in common can be as comforting as good medical attention. Once he’s given you a checkup, you’re “part of the crew,” said Ms. Paul.” It’s kind of clubby,” she said. “There’s something unifying in the secret club atmosphere.”
As the Hot Doctor fan club has grown, Dr. Meehan’s patients have begun to collect and trade trivia about him and to imagine the life he leads outside of his office. Ms. Paul remembered that when she went for her first appointment, “I felt like I’d been charged to find out more. I had to come back with some sort of information.”
The push to demystify Dr. Meehan is downright competitive at times. Leyla explained that the goal is to “store up” Hot Doctor trivia “for the next time you see somebody else who sees him so you can share. And you want to try to one-up them! It’s funny, like we’re groupies … It reminds me of reading Teen Beat when I was 15 years old and being like ‘Oh, his favorite color is blue!’”
The Hot Doctor’s patients have, in fact, amassed a considerable dossier on him. Ms. Page found out that one of his favorite movies is the chick-flick supreme, Ruby in Paradise . Leyla found out in November that he would be spending the millennial moment at home in the South with his family. This jibed with Ms. Paul’s discovery that Dr. Meehan returns home to Nashville pretty frequently.
But the Hot Doctor crew comes up empty on his personal situation. None of the patients interviewed has seen him in a social setting. Ms. Page says that the “Hot Doctor would be like maybe the No. 1 person to go out with in New York: He’s beautiful. He lives in the West Village. He’s a doctor. He’s from the South. And he’s nice.”
Dr. Meehan didn’t seem particularly unnerved by his patients’ preoccupation. Although at one point he said he was “shocked” to hear about the extent of his patients’ extracurricular discussions. “Wow, that’s really enlightening,” he said, after thinking about it for a while.
Still, Dr. Meehan said he regarded his women patients’ interest in him as “human nature.”
“I’m flattered,” he said. “It’s one way for someone to feel more comfortable with their doctor and I certainly don’t feel that that’s a hindrance.” He can even handle the flirting. “I may not be comfortable with it on a particular day, and sometimes, I may stumble on my words if I notice it, but it’s out there and that’s just part of being a doctor. You just learn to deal with that.”
And sorry, girls, but Dr. Meehan is in a relationship, although he declined to discuss who the lucky person is. Indeed, when told that there’s been a lot of discussion about whether he is straight or gay, the Hot Doctor nodded thoughtfully, before a dazzling smile bloomed on his face. “Gossip away!” Dr. Meehan said cheerfully.