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Dr. Oz: America's Hardest-Working Doctor

He may be an Oprah-branded TV star, but he has one big obsession: you. Here's why.

Dr Oz - AARP Magazine

— Art Streiber


Dr. Mehmet Oz is steamed. One of his two heart surgeries for the week has been slated for the wrong time, and now his whole surgery-day schedule is collapsing. Juggling phone calls in his small, standard-issue office at 30 Rockefeller Center, Oz speaks to a series of Columbia University hospital staffers, his voice at a controlled burn. Finally he tells the chief of staff at his surgical practice to manage the mess. If this isn't sorted out, he knows, he won't be able to operate at all this week—and his patients could suffer.

"The schedule for Thursday has to be redone," Oz tells the receiver, turning his back to a desk scattered with papers and bottles of Fiji water. "I want you to start from scratch and do the whole thing again." And so the chief of staff does—rebooking the coronary bypass, the heart-valve repair, the consult after consult. Meanwhile, Oz shakes off the rare moment of anger and returns to his full-time job as daytime TV's latest dish.

When Oz was 35, The New York Times Magazine called him "probably the most accomplished" cardiothoracic surgeon his age in the country. Now 50, the lean, limpid-eyed physician is an Oprah-branded TV star with a new syndicated program, The Dr. Oz Show, airing all over the country. Oz has given up most of his practice to focus on his show, but he still operates one day a week, performing more than 100 surgeries a year. "My wife jokes that I'm a Gemini," he says, "so I always have two lives at once."

Though his talk show bears all the genre's stagy hallmarks—its makeovers, its celebrity guests, its confrontations and tears—Oz is not just a real doctor; he's a leader in his field. The only reason he whittled his practice down to those fraught, precious Thursdays is that he wants to be your doctor, too. And he's not likely to stop trying until you let him.

Most fans know Oz because of his guest appearances on Oprah Winfrey's syndicated daytime show. But as his wife, Lisa, points out, "Oprah was on Oz before Oz was on Oprah." In 2003, at the invitation of a TV executive who had been his Harvard roommate, Oz hosted his first TV series, a 13-parter on the Discovery Channel called Second Opinion With Dr. Oz. One of his guests was Winfrey, who discussed her battles with weight.

In turn, Winfrey invited Oz to her show to talk about healthy eating and exercise. In subsequent visits, he perfected his trademark shtick of horrifying studio audiences by displaying real human organs in behavior-related decay: a calcified aorta, a cirrhotic liver, a tar-riddled lung. His message: Take care of your body—or else. And Winfrey and her audiences listened. "Dr. Oz has been one of the catalysts for how I view my own health," says Winfrey. "He has brought me closer to better health, better wisdom, and a better life for myself." Last fall, like Dr. Phil (McGraw) before him, Oz springboarded from frequent-guest status to being the host of his own syndicated show coproduced by Winfrey's Harpo Productions.

"Health is a sacred process. Food is not something you pull off the shelf—it has a life force to it."

How could an esteemed surgeon find contentment on a chat show? To hear Oz tell it, the two fields are more alike than they appear. "I tend to be impatient," he confesses. "I want to know if what I did was right—now. In heart surgery, when you make a mistake, the patient tells you immediately, because their heart stops beating." Similarly, Oz says, an audience gives immediate feedback about what's working and what's falling flat. And the swirl of writers, producers, camera people, stagehands, and other staff—a total of 149 people work on Dr. Oz—look to the host to keep tapings on track.

ABC World News anchor Diane Sawyer, a friend of Oz's since he began doing guest spots on Good Morning America in the mid-2000s, sees no conflict between Oz the healer and Oz the performer. "When he's doing television, he's teaching; that's what he also does in life," she says. "It's just an expanded form of teaching."

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