Some may say that the real question is: What has she done to (not for ) medicine? When you think of Oprah, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? If you’re in the medical profession, it’s likely Dr. Oz or Dr. Phil. Oprah is, of course, the guru of gurus. The amount of media power that her name, and her brand, wields is unmatched. What brings Oprah to the head of the list? She has established herself as an arbiter of all that is good in a variety of fields, from authors to culinary experts and more. Not only is she a well-known household name, she is known for intentionally branding others as the best by providing her stamp of approval, and not as a paid celebrity endorser. Oprah has taken on the role of anointing the worthy in fields where she may have no real training. Of course, she is entitled to her opinion. (Although it has gotten her sued and vindicated, as mentioned later.)
The Medical Protégés: What Happens After Oprah?
Oprah’s protégés come from all walks of life and various fields, including music, medicine, broadcasting, and more. In most cases, Oprah nurtured her anointed ones to fame with TV appearances before her huge audience. For those who got good ratings on her show, the appearances were often (or too often?) followed by her company, Harpo, producing a TV show built around her picks. Whether she intended it or not originally, these picks end up branded with the Oprah "seal of approval" for life.
Authors don’t lend themselves to entire TV series like doctors do, so the Oprah machine simply created a physical stamp of approval (called Oprah’s Book Club) that dwarfed the titles on the front covers of the selected books. Is there a secret tattoo that Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz may have? If their ratings go down, who knows what these guys might reveal? Until then, we only know that Oprah has become a king-maker in the literature/publishing/media world (her pal, Gayle King); financial sector (Suze Orman); self-help (Iyanla Vanzant), design, and cooking areas (Rachael Ray); and also in psychology (Phil McGraw) and medicine (Mehmet Oz). How did this happen?
Dr. Phil Gains Fame, Then Continues the Tradition
Dr. Phil’s Texas legal advisory firm was hired to coach Oprah through her mad cow disease lawsuit. Oprah had made negative comments about Texas beef and was sued because of a $10+ million beef industry loss. Oprah got off, but Dr. Phil emerged the real winner of the case. He became a featured guest on Oprah’s TV show and then her production company spun him off.
Dr. Phil, although not a medical doctor, has a PhD in psychology and was a licensed psychologist in Texas. He has even gone on to anoint his own protégés. His son, Jay, produces a successful TV show called The Doctors that features plastic surgeon Dr. Andrew Ordon, emergency medicine specialist Dr. Travis Stork, and others. Another venture, called Doctor on Demand, is a new startup conceived by Jay McGraw and funded by Dr. Phil and others. The app allows people to confer with doctors on their smartphones for medical advice and prescriptions.
Dr. Oz: Cardiothoracic Surgeon Gets a Shot in the Arm
In the case of Dr. Oz, things were a little different. He was already a well-known figure with a cable TV show. It was Mehmet Oz who had Oprah as a guest on his cable show first, in 2003. They hit it off, and his fame rose, so much so that his name has been co-opted by pseudo-medical product pushers (without his permission) to help them sell snake oil. Oz stated as early as 2009 that he made no profit from resveratrol, which he’d touted on an Oprah episode, although illicit companies used his name. For this (and for his on-air over-hype of certain diets and supplements), Oz was recently called before Congress: the ultimate celebrity appearance!
Who’s Next in the Oprah Royal Court? Could It Be You?
Oprah will be on tour shortly with some of her gurus and life advisors, including Deepak Chopra. It’s hard to say who’s next, of course, but there is no doubt as to the talk-show queen’s power to make stars out of individuals who may or may not know what to do with their positions as Oprah-anointed gurus.
As a health care professional, has Oprah affected your practice? Have “her doctors” given advice quoted by your patients? Has Dr. Phil or Dr. Oz (and whoever may be next) made your job in medicine more difficult? Or is it easier, because they bring to light conditions (in their own special manner) that make patients aware of various health/mental health issues so that patients can get real information and assistance from real medical experts and professionals? Would you sign on to become an Oprah doc?
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- A headache for Dr. Oz. Forbes website. June 16, 2009. http://www.forbes.com/2009/06/15/mehmet-oz-oprah-business-media-resveratrol.html.
- Join Deepak Chopra on Oprah’s The Life You Want Weekend tour. Deepak Chopra website. April 3, 2014. https://www.deepakchopra.com/news/view/209/join_deepak_chopra_on_oprah %E2%80%99s_the_life_you_want_weekend_tour.
- King G. Top 10 Oprah protégés. Time website. December 1, 2009. http://entertainment.time.com/2009/12/01/top-10-oprah-proteges/.
- Kotowski M. 10 people we wouldn’t know without Oprah Winfrey. CNN website. May 23, 2011. http://www.cnn.com/2011/SHOWBIZ/TV/05/13/oprah.friends.kotowski/.
- Oprah accused of whipping up anti-beef ‘lynch mob.’ CNN website. January 21, 1998. http://www.cnn.com/US/9801/21/oprah.beef/.
- Oprah: ‘Free speech rocks.’ CNN website. February 26, 1998. http://www.cnn.com/US/9802/26/oprah.verdict/.
- Rosman K. As a startup founder, it pays to have Dr. Phil as your dad. Wall Street Journal website. February 11, 2014. http://blogs.wsj.com/digits/2014/02/11/as-a-startup-founder-it-pays-to-have-dr-phil-as-your-dad/.