By Philip Smith
Despite being born into a family of esteemed physicians, Lisa Oz initially set her sights on a life in the entertainment field. After graduating from Bryn Mawr and studying theology at Columbia University, Lisa pursued her dream of becoming an actress. For over a decade, she lived the life of the theatre by performing, auditioning, and learning her craft.
“What really intrigued me about acting was the idea of changing people’s lives through storytelling,” she says.
Over time, her fascination with telling stories evolved from acting in front of the camera to the behind-the-scenes work of writing scripts, producing television shows, and creating books. During this period, she also fell in love with and married the man who was destined to become not only her partner in the best sense of the word but also the most famous and beloved surgeon in the world, Dr. Mehmet Oz of “Dr. Oz” fame.
At the time, Dr. Oz was spending the majority of his time saving lives as a cardiac surgeon at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York. She recognized in Dr. Oz another passionate storyteller who was impressive at delivering medical information to his patients and helping them develop a heart-healthy lifestyle. Lisa also felt that if Dr. Oz could reach a larger audience, perhaps patients would be better informed and equipped with the information necessary to make proactive health choices. Being married to a physician is never easy, but being married to a heart surgeon whose life is about answering emergency calls made Lisa want to find a way that they could spend more time together. She began to realize that by combining their talents, they could actually create meaningful change not only in people’s lives but possibly in the way medical care is delivered.
Forming a Powerful Team
“When Mehmet and I work together on projects, our main goal is to empower the patient, to give them the tools they need to achieve a better outcome in terms of their health care,” she says. “One of Mehmet’s favorite analogies is that all too often the patient sees themselves as the football being tossed around from one caregiver to another. This is not a good situation to be in because the patient needs to be the quarterback. It’s sad, but more often than not the patient is the passive observer in their care and they totally abdicate all decisions and responsibilities to their physicians. We want to provide them with the education and the motivation to be a key player in their own wellness.” This concept of patient empowerment is at the heart of the Dr. Oz health philosophy, which Dr. Oz himself credits his wife for envisioning.
“The entire journey in books and television was Lisa’s brainchild,” says Dr Oz. “Ten years ago, after hearing one too many stories of my frustration with the disease-focused care that I was trained to deliver, Lisa challenged me to write about my experiences. The resulting book, Healing from the Heart, was a catharsis and opened my eyes to the opportunity to teach in the public forum. Lisa then created and executive-produced Second Opinion, a Discovery Channel TV show that brought health education to families around the world. Ms. Oprah Winfrey agreed to participate as a guest on the inaugural show, and when her show kindly reciprocated, she and her team educated me about the subtle aspects of sharing information with an audience. Lisa even predicted the creation of The Dr. Oz Show, which arose from this experience, years before it even crossed my mind.”
For Lisa, the idea for Second Opinion occurred from listening to Dr. Oz’s concern that he was having the same conversations over and over again with his patients about how to take care of their heart. “I thought if Mehmet could have a television show where he could discuss health and medicine to a large audience, we could really make a difference,” she says. “This show was the beginning of the Dr. Oz phenomenon. What we did on that show was the precursor for Mehmet’s appearance on Oprah. When Second Opinion didn’t get picked up for a second season, we thought that we could take all this vital information and put it in a book format to continue reaching a broad audience. This was the start of the YOU book series with Dr. Michael Roizen. The tone in all the YOU books, such as You: The Owner’s Manual and You: Staying Young, is a bit irreverent because we want people to feel comfortable and not scared of their bodies.”
After years of developing new ways to package vital medical information featuring Dr. Oz for an eager public, Lisa felt it was time to begin focusing on her own projects. One night, while backstage at a lecture that she and Dr. Oz were giving, the organizer asked Lisa if she was going to write her own book. This was the inspiration she needed, and Lisa immediately began work on an outline of what was to become her own book, Us, Transforming Ourselves and the Relationships That Matter Most. With impressive endorsements from Dr. Dean Ornish and other key figures in the medical prevention field, Us quickly took off as a New York Times bestseller.
As a coauthor on the wildly successful YOU book series by Dr. Oz and Dr. Roizen, Lisa helped create the formula for conveying life-changing medical and health information in a concise and humorous fashion meant to get people involved in their own health care. The only message left out of the YOU books was the crucial interaction of our emotional relationships with the complexities of our physical health. It is this message that Lisa delivers in her remarkably intimate and candid fashion. She quickly brings the reader into the book’s experience as a close friend to share her wisdom on how to lead a healthier and more satisfying life.
In her book and in her personal life, Lisa takes a holistic view of the importance of the mind and body working in harmony for health. “Specific diseases are not isolated to a particular organ but are symptomatic of a broader imbalance throughout the body,” she says. “Sadly, modern medicine is still mired in its mechanistic/chemical based paradigm and fails to recognize the body as an energetic entity.” With good humor and intimacy, Lisa takes the reader on a gentle but well-programmed makeover journey toward wellness. The reader is given a simple seven-day program to ease them into vital health. Without judging or scolding, Lisa lets the reader know that if they are not comfortable with her program, “you can go back to your old wicked ways.” These “wicked ways” include overeating, lack of exercise, and emotional turmoil that prevent us from achieving our goals.
Making the right changes
Dr. Oz sees great value in the way his wife conveys information.
“The more I offer advice to patients, the more I realize that the most profound and influential information is delivered in ways described by Lisa,” he says. “Today, people are better educated about their health but are not motivated to make meaningful changes in their lives. As a heart surgeon, I was trained to seek information when facing an intraoperative quandary. But throwing more facts at a populace confused about how to move forward has failed repeatedly. Lisa has convinced me that 80 percent of change is based on emotional insights.”
As Dr. Oz points out, change in all aspects of our health starts with us. If we want to be healthier and live longer, reduce our cholesterol, our weight and our blood pressure, all of these goals require that our relationship with our body and our health needs to be in balance. Lisa clearly states that “it is your obligation and your privilege to care for your body. Keeping it strong, fit, and agile is one of the most important things you can do for yourself. You are inseparable from your body. We live in a society where more than 60 percent of us are overweight or obese and a large number of us are afflicted with chronic diseases. Whether suffering from high blood pressure, diabetes, congestive heart failure or arteriosclerosis, millions of Americans are physically and emotionally consumed by their illness.”
Lisa Oz lives the life plan that she lays out for readers in Us. She has travelled the path before us and shares the joys and difficulties of that journey. Unlike most people, Lisa started on the road to health very early on in her life. In part, it was Lisa’s upbringing in a family of innovative physicians that made her aware of the importance of preventive maintenance. By the time she was 15, Lisa was interested in all forms of alternative health and became a vegetarian. Her influence on the Oz family health program is impressive. With four children, an active media career, and one of the busiest husbands in medicine and show business, Lisa makes sure that her family stays healthy. “Our family meals tend to be organic with lots of grains, fruits, and vegetables. Just last night we had lentil soup, arugula salad, and brown rice.” In essence, the family follows a Mediterranean diet along with regular exercise and nutritional supplements. Lisa particularly enjoys yoga along with three-times-a-week cardio workouts.
In addition to working on her next book project, Lisa currently directs Pine Room Pictures, an entertainment company focused on family entertainment and hosts the Lisa Oz radio program on Oprah radio. Clearly, without her health, Lisa wouldn’t be where she is today.
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To obtain the book Us, Transforming Ourselves and the Relationships that Matter Most, visit www.amazon.com.