EXCLUSIVE: Television personality Dr. Mehmet Oz, host of The Dr. Oz Show, poses on his show's set in New York

Playing a Doctor on TV: Dr. Oz Works the Camera for Millions

Once you’re on Oprah’s team of TV doctors, you don’t actually need to chase shady online endorsements to make more money in four years than an elite cardiologist brings down in a working lifetime.

Dr. Mehmet Oz regularly makes lists of the richest practicing physicians on the planet with estimated net worth north of $14 million, but it’s unlikely he would have made that much on the resource-based relative value scale.

Figure a typical cardiologist makes $350,000 a year. Start working after four years of medical school and six years of post-grad training, retire at age 65, and that’s maybe $11.5 million, adjusted for inflation.

Oz brings down a reported $4 million per season of his syndicated self-titled daytime chat show. He just started Season 6 in September, so that’s two cardiology careers he’s outearned in the last five years.

Those cardiologists – or any other medical professional — might prefer a shot at his earning power, especially when you throw in the lifestyle perks like freedom from departmental politics and Washington healthcare policy swings as well as fame itself.

Here’s how Dr. Oz did it.

Get out of the grind and in front of the cameras

Any physician can spend every waking hour promoting the personal brand. Media opportunities in this era of endless channels and Web publications – maybe even this one – are everywhere for someone able and eager to share a professional medical opinion.

It’s not exactly showboating if you’re working to educate the public about how the body works and how medical science can improve its function, appearance and durability. But do it well enough and you’ll move up the booking food chain from one-time flavor quote to regular guest.

Pitch yourself. If there’s a medical issue in the headlines and you’re equipped to set the record straight, put together a list of bullet points and send it to the producers at your local network news affiliates. Send it to the national news channels too – if they find your POV compelling, they’ll find a way to interview you on their air.

Don’t be afraid to write their segment for them. Producers are smart people, but they’re overworked and have very little margin for error. If you can fill five minutes on a show where a headline guest has fallen through, you can save their jobs and their sanity. They’ll never forget that.

Save your clips and when you have enough to show an agent, let him or her do the pitching. And once you’re on the circuit, they’ll start calling you like Oprah’s people reached out to Dr. Oz ten years ago.

Oz really hit it off with Oprah’s audience. He translated the tough medical jargon back into television English. And he was willing to discuss, again and again, year after year, the issues that resonate with the public.

He talks about weight loss. He talks about sex. He talks about coping with cancer, diabetes, the problems that affect everyday Americans.

It turns out that Dr. Oz does all those things so well that he was worth $4 million a year to Oprah and her production company. And over the last half decade, that skill set combined with his credentials helped him become one of the richest physicians in the world.

No endorsements, no kickbacks

The TV money is so good that Dr. Oz doesn’t even endorse any of the products or diets he features on his show.

He officially decries all the spam you might be getting in his name. None of the weight loss flowers, advanced wrinkle reduction therapies, anti-aging tips in your email come from him.

They don’t have to because one unpaid mention from Oz on his show is all the product manufacturers really need, and he gets his paycheck either way.

He mentions what they have to sell because he wants to teach the public, spread his medical training around a little. He sees himself as a Dr. Marcus Welby for the new century, a sort of character playing a doctor in a kind of reality television show.

Maybe those who want to simply multiply their ability to dispense medical opinion across a wider patient population without all the show business can explore telemedicine or any of the other emerging productivity-boosting technologies we’ll talk about a lot around here.

Of course, it’s a sore subject whether Oz is actually disseminating medical knowledge or snake oil in any given episode. Marcus Welby was a fictional character who sometimes stretched the professional realities in the late 1960s.

As it happens, Marcus Welby was blamed for painting too rosy a picture for real-life patients who necessarily have to work with real-life doctors. Malpractice became an issue of not being nice enough.

Oz may be too sweet for his fellow practitioners, even though it’s exactly what the television audience loves. It’s his choice and his tightrope to walk in pursuit of that $4 million a year.

Whether he further blurs his role by encouraging his audience of “patients” he’ll never meet anywhere outside the TV screen or the book signing line to diagnose and treat themselves is another story. Maybe that’s the future of medicine. Maybe not.

When the hobby takes over the profession

Deepak Chopra was a doctor once. As a free-floating lifestyle coach, he’s built an $80 million empire out of what amounts to helping people feel better about themselves without necessarily helping them get any better in medical terms.

Dr. Oz could go that way. So far he’s kept up his admitting and OR privileges at New York Presbyterian. He keeps doing heart transplants.

His TV production deals would probably pay him a lot more to spend those hours in front of the camera, but right now it seems like he still loves practicing medicine more than he loves the extra cash.

For all practical purposes, being a conventional doctor is really a kind of expensive hobby for him now, like flying a restored propeller plane or collecting wines.

It pays him a check, but the opportunity costs of every hour spent in the operating room add up to serious dollars lost when he’s not being the doctor on TV.



Playing a Doctor on TV: Dr. Oz Works the Camera for Millions - overview

Summary: Once you’re on Oprah’s team of TV doctors, you don’t actually need to chase shady online endorsements to make more money in four years than an elite cardiologist brings down in a working lifetime.

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Scott Martin
Scott Martin

Senior Editor | Scott is occasionally considered “the greatest secret in the wealth management business,” having tracked developments since 2001 for publications like Research, Buyside and Institutional Investor. An advocate for the trust industry, he has testified to the Nevada Senate Committee on Commerce, Labor and Energy on issues of national competition.