Take the demands of a world-class cardiothoracic surgeon operating at NewYork-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 non-profits—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” airing on televisions across the globe starting September 10, 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.
“The Dr. Oz Show” is coming up on its fourth year! 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 thirty 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.
The Oz Olympics sound like fun! Can you give an example of an event?
My favorite is something called ball-tag. It’s a very simple game but it’s designed to create incentives for cooperation—all the kids against me… If they cooperate they’ll succeed; if they don’t, they won’t.
What are your children like right now? What are their interests and passions?
As parents know, it’s amazing how different each child can be. And with four, their interests run wide. Our oldest, Daphne, is 26 and is a co-host on ABC’s “The Chew.” She’s naturally a much better host than I am! Arabella is 21, and she just graduated from Columbia with a degree in film. Zoe is 17 and a gifted athlete. She’ll start her senior year of high school as the co-captain of her lacrosse and basketball teams. And our youngest, Oliver, just turned 13, and his latest interest is beekeeping the two beehives that Lisa gave me for my birthday.
Beekeeping! Tell us more.
We have fruit trees on the property but they aren’t proliferating as we thought they would. Part of the problem is we don’t have enough bees in this part of New Jersey! So my wife and my son conspired to get bees. I should point out that I have a bee allergy…so they weren’t my first choice.
How would you describe your relationship with your wife? Any interesting or funny stories about resolving differences or agreeing on priorities?
The thing about marriage is women marry the man they think he can become and try to change him; men marry the woman they want, and then she changes. After 26 years, I’ve been married to four different women! And, like every couple, we have our share of disagreements. We can push each other’s buttons unintentionally. But our solution is to remember what we love about each other, not what drives us crazy. And we spend lots of time together as a family. It keeps us bonded.
Do you and your wife have similar or contrasting parenting philosophies?
We often complement each other. I prefer to give the kids a lot of latitude and make it clear the expectations I have for them—with regard to their rooms staying clean, doing their homework… I’ve always insisted that they play sports, in part to see how they deal with adversity. They all know the one thing I always say is: “Ozs never quit.” I want them doing things with childlike passion—even though they’re not children anymore.
Lisa is much more about the extra question. The kids will say they’re going out tonight and I’ll say, “Fine. Be back by midnight.” She’ll ask, “Where are you going? Who’s going with you? Will there be drinking there? Will parents be there?”
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.
What are some of your favorite restaurants?
I love Candle 79. It’s up on 79th and Lex. It’s a vegetarian restaurant. They do a wonderful job, especially with the produce. It’s very healthy. You feel light, but full.
What’s more nerve-racking: performing heart surgery or raising children these days?
Raising children is definitely more nerve-racking. In the operating room, there are established procedures and clear guidelines; plus, I’m surrounded by experts in their respective fields. With kids, there is no handbook. Lisa and I are learning as we go, hoping our love, support, and guidance will conquer all.
In your opinion, what health topics are most relevant to modern-day parents and their children? Is childhood obesity at the top of the list?
Childhood obesity needs to be on the list. I founded a foundation called HealthCorps, which gets to the heart of that issue. It’s based off of the Peace Corps model. You put energetic college graduates in high schools around the country and you make it cool for the kids to learn about health. And we do focus on childhood obesity because it’s an obvious problem.
But the number one problem, I think, is sleep. When kids don’t sleep well, they don’t perform as well in school. They’re not as creative, they develop emotional issues much more frequently, and they gain weight.
Please finish this sentence: “I am the kind of doctor who always…”
I am the kind of doctor who always wants you to be heard.
Please finish this sentence: “I am the kind of father who always…”
I am the kind of father who always encourages my kids to follow their passion.
And to learn more about Dr. Oz, visit doctoroz.com
Top 5 Things Parents Can Do Today To Be Healthier Tomorrow
1. The couple clash. Buy a set of matching pedometers for you and your spouse or partner and see who’s taken more steps by the end of the week. Your goal? At least 10,000 steps a day, which can help manage your blood pressure and lower your cholesterol.
2. Exercise extras. Try sneaking a few exercises into daily activities, like doing squats when folding laundry, calf lifts when making dinner, or bicep curls with your grocery bags when walking home. Exercise helps maintain your bone density and can lower your risk for dementia later in life.
3. Stretch. For a burst of energy in the morning, do a quick stretch before getting out of bed. It increases your circulation, delivering a revitalizing dose of oxygen to your brain. A stretch as simple as touching your toes improves arterial elasticity, so your heart doesn’t have to work as hard.
4. Fiber-filled snacks. Making time to sit down for a full meal can be a challenge, but you can power up your day with fiber-filled snacks like pistachios or crunchy chickpeas. Studies show that eating a fiber-rich snack before a meal can reduce your overall calorie intake. As a bonus, you’ll also improve digestive health.
5. Stimulate your brain with daily switch-ups. Adding variety to your daily mental routine, such as using your opposite hand while brushing your teeth, will activate and cross-train different regions in your brain. Using these brain-boosting techniques on a daily basis can lower your risk of memory impairment down the road.