When Mehmet Oz—best known as Dr. Oz—announced his Senate run yesterday, I was slightly surprised, slightly amused, and slightly worried for the future of our country. Oz is running on the Republican ticket. Up until now, you might have known him best for his appearances on Oprah, his own television show, or perhaps for performing a televised physical exam on Donald Trump and giving the former president misguided pandemic advice. Or maybe you caught Oz appearing before the Senate’s Commerce, Science, and Transportation committee after he called a green coffee bean extract a “miracle in a bottle” for weight loss.
Oz is not a very good TV doctor, and his particular brand of junk-science quackery is well-documented. The announcement that marks the start of his political career suggests that he would not be particularly be great for the great state of Pennsylvania on the coronavirus front, either. He declared he wants to “empower you to control your destiny,” which does not necessarily give off promising vibes for handling a public health crisis.
But there is one weird little fact about Oz that sits quietly in my brain, so faint and soft and contradictory that I had to ask Google to help me bring it back into full view: Oz is a really good surgeon. Like, really good.
To get up to speed, I’d recommend reading Julia Belluz’s great 2015 assessment of Oz for Vox, “The Making of Dr. Oz.” Here are some quick facts from the piece: Oz holds a dual MD-MBA from the University of Pennsylvania (no, he does not live in Pennsylvania now, though it is the state he is running in). As a medical resident at Columbia, he won a big-deal award for surgeons four years in a row. “He’s a brilliant mind,” the associate chief of cardiac, thoracic, and vascular surgery at the medical center where Oz works told Belluz at the time. Oz is still listed as active on Columbia Surgery’s website. Yes, he can juggle surgeries, and all the TV stuff.
Here’s another description of him from a 2010 profile in the New York Times, by Frank Bruni:
As one of the most accomplished cardiothoracic surgeons of his generation, Mehmet Oz has transplanted lungs and repurposed hearts; implanted mechanical devices to provide the pump and pulse for patients that cannot manage that on their own; and otherwise pressed, pulled, cut and stitched inside bodies where a second’s lapse of attention or a millimeter of miscalculation could kill.
At least one former colleague was inspired enough by all of this to offer a suggestion for Oz’s future. “Maybe he should be president,” the associate chief at Columbia told Belluz back in 2015, adding, “I would vote for him.”
How do all of Oz’s particular skills help prepare him for the senator gig? On his website, he makes the pitch that “a great surgeon never censors ideas and never shuts off the light that shines on our wounds.” The “wounds” here are a metaphor for “things that are wrong with America.” It seems like this particular surgeon could serve America’s wounds best by tending to them a little more literally.