A busy schedule is not exactly news in New York, but in this week’s One on 1, NY1’s Budd Mishkin introduces us to Dr. Mehmet Oz — a heart surgeon, teacher, writer and television personality all in one. Be advised, the story contains footage of heart surgery.
Be it in Turkish or English, there is one phrase that doesn't seem to be in the vocabulary of Dr. Mehmet Oz: Down time.
"I'm going to play sports for these hours, I'm going to take care of folks for these hours, I need some creative juices to spill out during these hours, so I read a book or articles or do an interview when you come by and find ways of letting the different parts of my life shine forth,” says Oz.
There's been a lot of “shining forth” in his career.
He's a leading cardio thoracic surgeon at New York Presbyterian Hospital; a best selling author; he created Health Corps, teaching young people about health; he’s had several patents approved — and then there's that rather popular show on which he frequently appears, “The Oprah Winfrey.”
He calls it surgical standard time.
"You end up irritating people who are your friends, who are waiting around for you,” says Oz. “You're not be able to focus your creative energies, because you have something else butting up against it. I make that mistake all the time. The only place where I fail repeatedly is time management."
But Oz says the one place he never has trouble focusing is the operating room.
“So when I do my heart operation, I don't actually get tired, I get jazzed,” says Oz. “Almost every operation I do, there is the one spectacular precious moment where you might kill the person. You don't know when it's going to be, so you absolutely have to focus the entire time."
There’s no doubt that Oz has been successful as a doctor, a writer and now a television personality, but do you want your heart surgeon involved in so many other endeavors?
Oz says there has been a backlash among his colleagues for all of the media that he does.
“Some of it, you can write off to petty jealousy, but a lot of it is valid,” says Oz. “Physicians take tremendous pride in dedicating their life to the care of their patients, and every moment spent away from that could be argued to be to the detriment of their patient. I completely understand that."
But Oz counters that doctors have a civic responsibility to educate the public about health.
"If we are not going out there as physicians and teaching you how to avoid my knife, then we're not doing our job,” says Oz. “So an interview like this It might take me away from a new medical insight that might have been helpful for a patient, but it might save many more folks who never haven't come to visit me in the first place, because the low-lying fruit in health is in interventions that are lifestyle-based, not surgically-based."
Oz first came to New York’s attention during the World Series in 1996 when he performed a heart transplant for Frank Torre, the older brother of then Yankees Manager Joe Torre.
But Oz says that didn't affect the treatment.
"One of the most important lessons you learn taking care of the VIPs is to make sure that they get treated like normal patients,” says Oz. “About the worst care you can get is VIP care, because all of a sudden, the chairman of the department who hasn't done it in 15 years is in there putting your IV in. You don't want that. I always tell them, we've told everybody, the president gets the same message: Let's do it the way everybody else gets it done. Otherwise we are going to mess up a very well-oiled machine.”
The Torre transplant story was front page news.
But there is attention, and then there is Oprah attention. He is a frequent guest on the show, discussing all sorts of health topics. For example:
"Poop. How do you make it happen? How do you make the poop come out the way it needs to come out? What does it look like? What is normal? And we did the show, it aired and the next day I couldn't walk in the City of New York without people making poop comments to me!” says Oz.
We should have known early on that Dr. Oz was going to be busy. His folks certainly did.
"My mom was always tired when I was a child,” recalls Oz. “At the end of day, she always looked at me and said 'why don't you just ever slow down?’"
Oz was born in Cleveland to Turkish parents. One story he remembers from his childhood reflects an early seriousness of purpose.
"I was in an ice cream shop and a kid in front of me was waiting for the ice cream and my father asked him, Îwhat do you want to be when you grow up?’ And the kid said, ÎI don't know. I'm a kid, I'm not sure yet.’ And the kid got his ice cream and left and my father turned to me and said, ÎI don't care what you want to do, but never give me that answer.”
The young Oz got the message.
He went to Harvard, and then earned a joint medical and business degree at Penn. He visited family in Turkey every summer. But Oz says it wasn't his international background that resulted in him being a leading proponent for alternative therapies like meditation, yoga and Reiki.
He credits his patients.
"They brought it to me. Everyone says, ÎHow did Oz think about it, how did he come up with the idea?’ I didn't come up with any of the ideas. The ideas that were all there, they were brought to me. Patients were comfortable talking to me. The only thing I actually did was just to listen.”
Oz says more than 95 percent of patients at New York Presbyterian Hospital get some type of alternative care.
But he claims that the medical board rejected acupuncturists, energy therapists and other practitioners because it didn't have expertise on these matters.
"So you know how we got them into hospital? I said to them, ÎYou know, you don't judge hairdressers, do you? If someone wants a manicure or a pedicure in the hospital, does the medical board approve them? If you guys really don’t think this makes a difference, let’s make it an amenity,’” says Oz. “’Forget about bringing them in as professionals. They understand this might be insulting. Let's bring them in as amenities. If patients want them, let them bring them in.’"
So Dr. Oz listened to the wishes of his patients.
He was listening the day he spoke to his daughter's class about health, and realized the kids really listen to other kids.
He then created Health Corps, a domestic Peace Corps-type program that sends college graduates into schools in New York and around the country to teach kids about health.
"We teach them how to eat smartly, how to exercise that most precious of all things they ever inherited — their body. And then taking these two foundation pillars and give them mental resilience and give them a new vantage on what life might hold for them,” says Oz.
If you think that the doctor's passion and eloquence might be appropriate for the political stage, it's been suggested. He says now is not the time, though he has contributed to various candidates.
He has strong opinions on some of the big issues of the day, like stem cell research.
"As a scientist, there is just no way, no way I can defend not doing stem cell research,” says Oz.
And with his parents' experience in mind, he has strong ideas about immigration.
“W must have a pathway to citizenship in this country,” says Oz. “You cannot take human beings and block their ability to prosper, to advance themselves, by making rules where they don’t have any path to gaining citizenship, entry into the rest of American society.”
For now, this husband and father of four is busy with surgery and patients and books and teaching and yes, Oprah. It's a rich life, still·
"I was born in the Year of Rat in the Chinese horoscope. I just run the maze,” says Oz. “I tell you what, you create a maze for me and I will run it. And I will never stop until I get to the end. The real question, my wife is a good centering force for me in this area, am I on the right maze?”
— Budd Mishkin