When Dr. Charles “Chic” Wilson apparates onto my computer screen one recent Tuesday morning, he looks every bit the medical academic I expect. Neatly coiffed hair. Wide, easy grin. Glasses—tortoiseshell, of course. He speaks with the warm authority of someone who’s used to explaining complicated things to people while they’re awkwardly perched on the edge of an exam chair. Which makes sense considering Wilson’s medical clinic performs, by his count, thousands of vasectomies each year.
What I don’t expect is when, 13 minutes into our Zoom call, he muses, “It’s all about women, right?” But we’ll come back to that later.
Wilson has seen thousands of patients at his Laurelhurst vasectomy clinic since its founding in 1987. But most of them probably don’t even know his name. They only know him—and his physician partner, Dr. Kelly White—by the snappy moniker “Dr. Snip.”
The nickname didn’t begin as a well-conceived marketing ploy; it was simply a bit of wordsmithing that went viral. Or as viral as something can go in 1995, when Seattle Post-Intelligencer journalist John Marshall chose to write a piece about Wilson and his practice. “Literally on my doorstep at seven in the morning, I looked down and the paper was sitting there, and above the masthead it has highlights of articles,” Wilson recalls. “There in big letters is ‘Dr. Snip.’”
Soon patients and even referring doctors began calling him by the handle. Eventually, Wilson applied for a trademark. In the decades since, the Dr. Snip name has become as synonymous with a Seattle vasectomy as, say, Dick’s is with late-night stoner food. Ditto the keepsake pocketknife that the clinic gifts to patients after their procedures. In fact, according to Dr. Snip CEO Shrikesh Majithia, half of the clinic’s patients come from word-of-mouth referrals. “Our game isn’t Google AdWords and Facebook ads.”
Majithia, who came on board as CEO in October 2020 with the aim to bring the Dr. Snip brand to other cities (Portland is up first with a clinic scheduled to open in Tigard, Oregon, later this year), seems to understand the magic that Wilson has cornered in his niche market for more than three decades. Wilson, to his credit, seems less concerned with the business side as he does with spreading his original mission: making vasectomies easy for patients.
Remember that thing Wilson said about vasectomies being all about women? It makes more sense when you understand how he got started. Back in the ’80s, he was a family medicine doctor who “loved delivering babies, caring for old folks, and everyone in-between.” The specialization came later when he was asked to cover for a fellow physician who happened to focus on vasectomy. A family planning clinic later asked Wilson if he’d be interested in offering vasectomy to couples who were coming in, many for abortions. “There were a lot of myths and misunderstandings about vasectomy,” Wilson recalls. “People said, ‘If I had known or if it had been easier, I would have done it.’ And I said, Well, you know, I can fix that.”
He put together an informational pamphlet for the vasectomy-curious—unheard of at the time when “nobody said the word ‘vasectomy’ out loud in decent society”—and mailed it out for free. Patients called with questions, received the paperwork in the mail, and made appointments. The practice grew, and eventually, Dr. Snip became the name friends of friends (it’s always a friend of a friend) mumbled to each other in the locker room.
While Wilson started an entire medical clinic focused on helping men undergo the snip, he is clearly, fully in it for women. “Women deserve to have convenient, easy ways available for their partners,” he says. “I can’t tell you how important it is in terms of the morbidity of females, with birth control and unexpected pregnancies, and things like that. So that’s our mission: to make it easy so when the time’s right, guys can step up and get her done.”