NDNR Interview | Dr. Oz

NDNR, interviewed Dr. Mehmet Oz, vice chair and professor of surgery at Columbia University. Dr. Oz and his wife, Lisa, recently received honorary doctorate degrees from Bastyr University.

Q: Your work led you to receive an honorary Doctor of Natural Health Arts & Sciences degree from Bastyr University. Congratulations! Can you share what it means to you as a physician?

A: I learned about alternative medicine from my wife’s family when I was in medical school and I realized that to achieve true healing it was necessary to learn what every culture and heritage had to offer. The advanced technology and drugs from Western medicine should not be the only tools a doctor uses when dealing with a patient. Many times cultures were using a remedy without knowing why something worked, but it did. It’s our responsibility as teachers and healers to find out why. Early on, I sought to bridge these two points of view within my practice and within the hospital. This was somewhat of an uphill battle among my more traditional colleagues, but over time, I like to think they understand the value.

When Bastyr honored my wife and me, it was a wonderful validation that standing firm had paid off and the risk of subjecting myself to criticism early in my medical career was worth it. Ultimately, we are not advocating a particular method, but rather how doctors and healers should view medicine. The evening at Bastyr was an affirmation that the minds I admire most in alternative and progressive medicine thought I contributed something useful. It was humbling. What made it most gratifying was their recognition of my wife Lisa’s work and the role she has played in my life as a personal teacher and partner in this journey. The dual doctorates were interdependent and Bastyr understood that.

Q: In your writings and television and radio programs, you seem to embrace the six principles of naturopathic medicine. How do you identify with these principles both personally and professionally now that you are part of the professional natural medical community?

A: I found that to get people to understand and embrace these principles, you can’t present it in a way where they seem like big, complicated grand designs. The Healing Power of Nature, for instance, is a spectacular philosophy that lends itself to endless discussion – but people don’t need a huge lecture, nor will they respond. Instead I tell them to simply visit a park near their home or buy a bird feeder or go for a mountain bike ride or sit in silence in a field and then report back to me on how they feel. When they say they feel better, mission accomplished.

It’s the same with prevention. Prevention is a pillar on which [my television] show is built and there are prevention steps in everything we do. We don’t force-feed it and indoctrinate viewers; however, we simply offer little steps like eating more colorful vegetables, and these are very accessible to the audience. Over time, the little steps add up and you soon have a person living a lifestyle of prevention without even realizing it.

So while these are the principles that guide much of my decision making, they are effective when they are translated into simple action steps without a lot of intellectual discussion.

Q: As a Turkish-American raised by Turkish immigrants, was indigenous or Turkish folk medicine part of your growing up? Did it influence you in becoming a doctor and your interest in natural remedies? Are there any home remedies from your childhood that you have passed on to this generation?

A: My decision to become a doctor stems from a moment when I was 7 years old. My father is a physician and I idolized him when I was a kid. We were in an ice cream store; an older boy was asked what he wanted to be when he grew up and didn’t have an answer. My father turned to me and said that it didn’t matter what I decided to be, but I should never not know what I wanted to do with my life. I knew at that moment I wanted to become a physician.

My awareness and interest in natural remedies and alternative healing didn’t take root until I met my wife, Lisa. Her father was my mentor, and as I got to know her family in our early dating I was introduced to all new perspectives on nutrition, Eastern traditions and spirituality and how they related to the medicine I was learning at Penn.

As for Turkish home remedies, one of the ones I remember most that we still use today is naturally made yogurt. As a child, I remember my father would boil the milk on our stove and, after allowing the cooling to start, he would inoculate the bowl with live culture from a prior batch. A day later, we had a natural remedy for upset stomach (as well as an empty stomach). We now have lots of data to support the value of probiotics naturally found in this homemade yogurt for irritable bowel and constipation.

Q: What would you like to share with the doctors who read NDNR about our profession and our role in the future of medicine?

A: The first thing I want to do is thank all naturopathic doctors for their contribution to Western medicine. The West has a long way to go and, quite frankly, hasn’t expressed enough humility in appreciating the need to learn and understand naturopathic medicine.

The other thing I often tell people is to see medicine like banking for a moment. You can go to any ATM in any country and make a withdrawal with your card and receive the currency from that country in your hand with the equivalent subtracted from your checking account at home. Sharing information, practices, insight and knowledge between naturopathic healing and traditional medicine is bringing about the globalization of medicine and it will make us all better healers. Like the banking system, where this was borne out of necessity, I see it as a necessary evolution in medicine that these schools of thought will continue their convergence. For me it’s never been either/or, it’s been both working together.

Q: What are your thoughts on how we might better educate allopathic physicians to embrace the validity of natural medicine and naturopathic physicians to be of best service to patients?

A: Institutions like Bastyr are spectacular in presenting knowledge and research in a way that traditional medicine understands. In order to promote understanding of any idea, it’s best to speak the language of the other person or culture and communicate in terms they understand. If you speak to allopathic physicians in the way they are accustomed to learning, then you will achieve great understanding and integration.

NDNR followed up by also interviewing Daniel K. Church, PhD, president of Bastyr University.

Q: What were the criteria for choosing Dr. Oz and his wife Lisa for the honoree doctor of Natural Health Arts and Sciences degrees?

A: The criteria, in general, for offering an honorary degree at Bastyr University would be not that a person has necessarily studied the various curricula that we offer, but that a person’s profession or personal life exemplifies the values and supports the mission of the university and that they’ve done so in such a way that honoring them also honors Bastyr University.

Lisa Oz was here two years ago for an appearance at Bastyr University. We chose her because Mehmet Oz has said many times in public that everything he knows about natural medicine he learned from his wife. … She seemed very familiar with us and our philosophy, and kept saying [that] Mehmet knows all about Bastyr but needs to come out here to see this operation and meet the people. … We kept the dialogue up over a span of nearly two years, and in the end we extended the offer of honorary degree for each.

[Mehmet’s] terms were these: He would not allow us to honor him unless we honored his wife. I thought it was an extraordinary statement on his part. We chose them because we truly believe they exemplify our values and our mission. In our judgment, they have done as much or more to elevate an appreciation of natural medicine in a larger public arena than virtually anyone within our own community. To be able to have them stand in solidarity with us adds value to us.

The Doctor of Natural Health Arts & Sciences [cannot be earned] at Bastyr University. What we believe about honorary degrees is that we should never give degrees that other people can study and pay for, so it is a degree that captures the language of our mission and is descriptive of the kinds of things we teach.

Q: What are your thoughts on the impact that this honorary degree to Dr. Oz means for naturopathic medicine and our profession?

A: When Dr. Oz makes reference to global medicine, he talks about Eastern and Western approaches and that is a fairly common kind of shorthand. …

In my view what his receiving this degree does for us and NDs is it shows the future of integration and collaboration, as opposed to a future of competition and marginalization. I say over and over to our faculty that we have to stop treating the allopathic community as our enemy. We are not the alternative anymore, we are partners. We have a different set of tools, a different set of views, yet we are still trying to do the same thing. And if we are an organization defined by our vision to transform the health of the human family, that’s what they are trying to do, too; they are just using a different approach. If we approach them not as the enemy and we see them and they see us, and then we meet in the middle. …

The best practice of medicine is when the skills and resources of each are available to all. Dr. Oz does it by embracing naturopathic medicine the way he does and did while here on campus, and is able to give a much higher platform for this view than we are ordinarily able to achieve.

Q: Dr. Oz told NDNR that his attempts to bridge natural medicine and Western medicine were an uphill battle among his more traditional colleagues, and that receiving this honor was a wonderful validation that standing firm had paid off and the risk of subjecting himself to criticism early in his medical career was worth it.

A: He told me a number of times that he was taken on by his peers, and he’s got pretty good credentials. He was occasionally accused of witchcraft and [things that] a lot of NDs are used to. I hope receiving the honorary degree in Natural Health Arts & Sciences made him feel like he has a burden off his shoulders, because he has now been affirmed by both sides.

Q: What are your thoughts on what both Dr. Oz and the naturopathic medical community will come away with in the giving and receiving of this honor?

A: The honorary doctorate is only a public acknowledgement; it doesn’t entitle him to do anything that he couldn’t do before and it won’t motivate him to do anything that he wasn’t already doing, because he is clearly building a bridge already. He is one of the architects, the construction engineer if you will, to make that bridge work. So this is nothing more than planting a sign under construction that says that we are moving toward each other. My hope is the metaphor will work for us and that both sides will cross the bridge and be willing to venture out onto the edge and recognize that it will support them and they won’t fall into the chasm.

When I think of the “bridge,” it is the patient who has done more to bring together Western and Eastern, allopathic and naturopathic, or any of the dichotomies we find around us. … It’s a bridge made of human beings, and I think both sides will come closer together by witnessing someone as high profile as Dr. Oz being even more “out” than he has been on this issue.

Q: What is the message that you are conveying to the Western medical profession in honoring him with this degree?

A: That we: 1) respect the extraordinary competency and credentials of one of their finest practitioners; and 2) celebrate that he thinks there is truth in our end of the continuum as well. And by our recognizing that, they’ll recognize the message that here is somebody who lives in both worlds and is completely credible in both, and we aspire to be like that.

His credentials are unquestioned by any allopathic community. This guy is as good as it gets.

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