Why you should care
Because health is wealth.
At 60 years old, Dr. Oz has spent most of his life helping people, both as a doctor and in his most recognizable role as TV guru extraordinaire. While some might look to retire, Dr. Oz is still forging ahead, this time to bring more equity to the medical world. Join Carlos and Dr. Oz this week on The Carlos Watson Show as they discuss Dr. Oz’s commitment to supporting Black doctors and the secret to living a long, happy life. You can find excerpts below or listen to the full interview on the show’s podcast feed.
Carlos Watson: So you become a heart surgeon, but then all of a sudden …how do you end up on TV?
Dr. Oz: I got to blame my wife and Oprah for that. So my wife said, “Listen, you come home every day doing a heart surgery and you complained to me that patients that you’re taking care of didn’t know the first thing about taking care of themselves and often could have avoided you needing to take a bandsaw to their chest to do heart surgery.” Right. “You don’t have to heal with steel if you’d just offer preventive ideas, people will take advantage of them. The reason America hasn’t gotten the message is, you haven’t given it to them.”
And if you give people space, they’ll tell you their story. They want to be on your show so they want to be heard, but a lot of times we suffocate those feelings and so the deeper meaning doesn’t come down. That’s a big part, actually, of the implicit bias in medicine. Cultural differences amongst people, they show up in different ways. One of the most obvious ways is I don’t really hear what you’re trying to tell me, or what I’m trying to tell you, you don’t really hear because I didn’t say it in a way you could hear it.
And so that leads to the kinds of atrocious statistics that surround the care of Black people in America. And I actually started to wrestle this topic down a little bit, just getting comfortable with the numbers and I kept thinking, well, OK, I know that Black babies don’t live as often as white babies, which is horrible to even acknowledge, but it’s just true. What I didn’t know that’s even worse is that Black babies getting cared for by Black doctors do a lot better than when they have white doctors. And you think to yourself, well, I don’t think the white doctors, the pediatricians, the neonatologists, they don’t want to hurt those little beautiful gems of life, whatever color they are. So obviously there’s something deeper than this.
What Needs to Change?
Watson: So talk to me about what changes you think would make a difference here, Dr. Oz, because it is heartbreaking. One woman said to me and it broke my heart. She said, “What some white cops are to Black men is what some white doctors are to many Black women.”
Dr. Oz: Well, that quote you just mentioned was offered to me by the head of my legal team, who is a Black woman who’s been with me since Day One, one of my closest friends. And when she said that, especially as a doctor, I just couldn’t even process it. I thought that I could fit in that same bucket, and then I began to understand why she was feeling that way. I think the best way to fix some of the deep cultural blocks that are occurring in American medicine is to have more Black health care providers, especially Black doctors, because doctors lead health care systems. And right now I’ll just give you the numbers: Thirteen percent of Americans are Black, 5 percent of doctors are Black. That’s a big difference.
So we started a program called #MoreBlackDoctors. This campaign is designed primarily at high school kids who I have big access to because I’ve got a kids foundation called HealthCorps. We raised a $100 million for HealthCorps. We teach kids, primarily kids in underserved areas, many of them Black and Latinos, teaching them about health. But now I want to teach them to go into health. And we’re doing that with a lot of Black doctors or medical students who never got mentoring and no one ever told them that there were opportunities, I mean, huge opportunities in medicine.
No one ever supported them in their worst and most difficult times. So by having more Black doctors in mentorship positions, all of a sudden all these high school kids that I’ve been talking to, because I know what they’re thinking, start to reimagine their future. And all of a sudden, the possibility of becoming a doctor occurs to them, and yeah, they can do that. They can hit a target once they know what the target is. Let’s give them a target that’s worthy, like being a doctor. And we’re going to get a lot more people into medicine. Two reasons: One, they’ll have huge foundation support now, philanthropic support by making sure that money is not an obstacle in medical school. So my institution, I’m at Columbia University, a very thoughtful man and his wife gave us enough money to make all the medical school free.
So I don’t care what color you are, you’re not paying for med school. And that’s important because if you’ve got to pay for medical school, that kind of debt is so big that you can’t go into the practice of family care or internal medicine. You’ve got to be a heart surgeon like me to pay off your bills. Well, that’s not where medicine is fought. The battleground, the trenches are in primary care medicine. If you don’t have the resources to get into medical school, then you can’t stay in medical school. So we lose Black doctors there as well. And our #MoreBlackDoctors campaign is about giving kids $10,000 grants. And you know what? It’s not just for schooling, it’s also for books and for food. I mean, these kids that win these awards from our HealthCorps foundation, I mean, the stories they tell me give me goosebumps, but we are making a difference.
All we got to do now is lift up our eyes and gaze up a little bit so we can see the best of opportunities that exist in front of us.
Watson: How do you break through to those good people who either aren’t doing the right thing or aren’t doing enough of the right thing?
Dr. Oz: So, whether you want to call it that, or call it implicit bias, or call it structural racism, you can pick any words you want. Let’s just focus on the reality that it’s there. And what’s the best way to treat it? The data is telling you: get Black doctors to take care of the Black babies. It’s true throughout medicine. And the better we are at having Black doctors in leadership positions in American medicine, the more white doctors are going to understand that there are opportunities there that we can take advantage of. And that’s how we’ll start fixing the system.
The Three Fountains of Youth
Watson: Have you had those kind of fundamental surprises as someone who’s not only a doctor, but you’re in an academic institution at Columbia so you get to see all sorts of different things, and you’re sitting in a really interesting seat so different people are coming to you? But have you, yourself, still learned anything that’s surprising or valuable or profound about health and medicine over the last five, 10 years?
Dr. Oz: Dan Buettner did some of the early work in this area, identifying that people living in some parts of the world enjoy age 100, even longer, four times more commonly than if they lived here in this country. And you start to say, “Well, what are they doing differently? We got great health care in America.” And then you realize … health care helps, but it’s not going to do it for you. It’s the day in and day out activities that you practice, the habits you get into, which start as these little cobwebs, but they become chains if they’re the wrong habits, and they become support ropes if they’re the right habits.
And so, in these islands where people live a long time, the Blue zones, they have a couple of basic realities. They don’t eat the same food, but they eat real food. Food that comes out of the ground looking the way it looks when you eat it. So, that’s one big epiphany for me. The fact is, when you go into a grocery store, you’re walking into a pharmacy. These are powerful, powerful ways for you to hack your natural body’s inclination toward disease or toward health. The second is daily physical activity, and it doesn’t have to be pumping iron or doing triathlon training. You can just do basic stretching, yoga, a little bit of weight work, which is your body basically being lifted up in yoga, and some aerobic. Break a sweat. Walk fast, or run, if you’re able to. That, done every day, but for a half-hour, 45 minutes, is hugely impactful on your longevity.
But I’ll tell you, the most important of all is connection. We are a social species. We’re designed to be near each other, and when we forget that, we suffer. That’s one of the big problems of COVID. I had Jerome Adams, who’s the past surgeon general on the show, toward the end of his tenure, he said, “One of my biggest concerns is that we’re going to lose more people from the depths of despair, from the treatment of COVID, than we are from the actual COVID.” We just lost 500,000 lives from COVID, so you see how important a number that is.
But people, when they are pulled away from each other and not allowed to use what our brains are designed for, which is to look into each other’s eyes and read each other’s facial expressions and hear each other’s voices … That’s why our brain got the size it is. We can go hunting with a brain the size of a walnut. So, to truly use that power, that God-given ability we have to read each other, we got to spend time with each other.