By Whitney C. Harris
Take the demands of a world-class cardiothoracic surgeon operating at New York-Presbyterian Hospital and teaching at Columbia University Medical School. Add to that the work of hosting a Daytime Emmy award-winning television show and writing best-selling books—not to mention supporting various nonprofits—and you’re looking at the daily grind of America’s most famous doc, Dr. Mehmet Oz.
“For me it’s about managing my energy, not just my time,” Oz replies when asked how he finds room for it all. “I have filled my life with activities and people I’m passionate about, and that alone gives me the ability to sustain a pretty hectic schedule.”
And, graciously, Oz made time for us. With the fourth season of The Dr. Oz Show now airing across the globe, we caught up with its celebrated star to talk medicine, marriage and modern-day parenting.
You come from a family of medical and wellness professionals. What inspired you to go into medicine?
As a child, I would join my father, who is also a physician, on his rounds at the hospital. I saw how he’d make his patients smile, even when they were in pain. But my career choice came into focus when my dad and I were in an ice cream shop and he asked a boy what he wanted to be when he grew up. The boy was indecisive, prompting my dad to tell me, “You can be anything you want, but have direction and do your best.”
What is a typical day like for you?
I don’t have a typical day, and that’s exciting for me. On Mondays, I meet with the producers and prepare for the week’s tapings; on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays, I shoot two shows each day; and on Thursdays, I operate.
What are the biggest challenges and the biggest rewards of your work?
The biggest challenge—whether on the stage or in the operating room—is how I can inspire change. I can’t will someone to live a healthier life; I can only provide the information they need to make smarter decisions. But the ultimate reward is when my message clicks, when they get that spark in their eye and they get it. I am in awe of the letters I receive from viewers and patients who share their progress with me. It makes all the hard work worth it.
What was the turning point at which your career really took off and why do you think you’ve been so successful?
There’s a clear moment when my career shifted from operating room to TV studio. I had operated on a 25-year-old woman, and when I went to visit her in recovery, she, her husband, and their two kids were celebrating the successful surgery with fast food. It was then that I realized that I’m doing a disservice to my patients if I just fix their heart but don’t explain how health and nutrition could keep them off my operating table in the first place. She characterized so many patients I had seen who didn’t see how they could impact their own lives.
So my wife created a show for me, which became Second Opinion on Discovery. Oprah Winfrey was actually my first guest— we hit it off, and she invited me on her show. The rest is history.
What is one of your most memorable TV moments, either as host or guest?
There have been so many memorable guests and moments over the past three years. But the first that comes to mind is when we celebrated our 400th show and some of our favorite guests returned to offer their sage advice. It’s so inspiring to see the excitement in their eyes as they share their journeys and acknowledge how far they’ve come.
You’ve been married for almost 30 years and have four children. Can you tell us about your family? What’s the family dynamic like in the Oz household?
I have been blessed with a wonderful, beautiful family. My wife, Lisa, is the brains and is the driving force for me and our kids. Now that our kids are older, and they each have their own schedules, we have to consciously set aside family time. We love to take trips together, as we did this summer—we traveled to Turkey, Greece, and Italy.
We’re all fairly active, so our family time usually involves some sort of sport. Every year we have Oz Olympics, a tournament of four events, each designed around one of our kid’s strengths. Each compete in all four events, so to win the medal, one has to succeed at someone else’s event as well as their own. We always have a great time.
What is the best piece of parenting advice you’ve ever received?
The best advice I ever got was that when you give your kids something that you didn’t have as a child, you’re taking away from them something that you did have. You have to be very cautious about making their life too easy. I won’t purposely make their life miserable, but I won’t go out of my way to make it easy, either—part of life is having the freedom to make mistakes.
So what was your own childhood like? Do you observe any Turkish traditions in your family?
As the son of immigrant parents, I had the privilege to grow up American while staying in touch with my Turkish roots. Turkish was actually my first language, and I grew up spending summers in Istanbul. Now my parents have moved back, so we visit with our kids as often as we can, like [we did] this summer.
What do you enjoy doing in New York City with your family?
My wife and I grew up around Philly, and we moved to the area while I was still in med school as we were just starting our family. The New York City area has been a fantastic place to raise kids. They have been lucky enough to experience the excitement and the culture first-hand, and I think it’s shaped them in the best possible way. We love to visit the farmers’ market in Union Square and enjoy the amazing restaurants the city has to offer—especially with local food.
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