Will Smith's Colonoscopy Goes Viral, Sends Message

David A. Johnson, MD


November 21, 2019

This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Hello. I'm Dr David Johnson, professor of medicine and chief of gastroenterology at Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, Virginia.

Happy birthday to Will Smith, who recently turned 50. And kudos to him for using the moment to undergo colonoscopy for colon cancer screening and prevention. He shared this in an incredibly detailed documentary.

He starts with a conversation with his physician explaining why it’s necessary to do this. He then shares with viewers the preparation, procedure, and aftermath, and really normalizes the process by showing patients that this is something that's very easy to accommodate by investing a little bit of time.

As he says in the video, "Health is our greatest wealth." But it does take a little bit of effort. He adds a tremendous amount of humor to his YouTube video, in typical Will Smith fashion. But he knocks it out of the park with the simple message, "You can do it, and in fact, you need to do it."

This is a real opportunity for physicians and healthcare providers to re-discuss this intervention with our patients, emphasizing that colonoscopy is the most preferred strategy for detecting and removing precancerous polyps and for the prevention of colon cancer. That's the whole issue: Screening is prevention, and colonoscopy is a great way to do that. Will Smith normalizes this notion again by bringing it back to a simple message: "I got through it, so you can do it too."

I always reflect on how stars direct attention to themselves. To my mind, what superstars do is productively use that opportunity by directing the attention to them and then from them. In this case, Will Smith is doing just that by harnessing the attention he is given and directing it to what people need to do when it comes to the preferred strategy for colon cancer prevention.

So, Will Smith, thank you for being a true superstar of colonoscopy.

David A. Johnson, MD, is professor of medicine and chief of gastroenterology at Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, Virginia, and a past president of the American College of Gastroenterology. His primary focus is the clinical practice of gastroenterology. He has published extensively in the internal medicine/gastroenterology literature, with principal research interests in esophageal and colon disease, and more recently in sleep and microbiome effects on gastrointestinal health and disease.

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