You will see the doctor now...
A true Renaissance man, Michael Crupain was originally set to become a neurosurgeon. Then his professional life took a detour—first to preventive medicine and, now, as medical director at The Dr. Oz Show with Dr. Mehmet Oz. When asked about his career path, he admits, “It’s complicated.”
It’s a long way from Westchester Medical Center to a sound stage in Manhattan. How did you get there from here?
Two years into my residency, I realized I liked neurosurgery, but not enough to devote my life to it. There was so much more that I wanted to do. So I joined a start-up medical device company, Endomedix, and spent two years as director of quality assurance and regulatory affairs.
But I was still searching for the right outlet for all my interests. I’ve always been passionate about food and its effects on health, so in 2008 I launched “The Dairy Show,” a video blog about good food, responsible agriculture, animal welfare and healthy eating. Food blogs are everywhere now, but at the time, we were one of the first to promote farm-to-table cooking and introduce simple food science and nutrition to a broader audience. I saw firsthand how, with the right message, you can change culture and improve lives. It was really powerful.
After that, everything else just fell into place. I went on to do a residency in preventive medicine at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, which included getting an M.P.H.—a degree I think every physician should get. I met Dr. Oz during that time, when I spent one of my third-year rotations working on his show.
So you went straight from Bloomberg to Oz?
Not quite. Before joining the Dr. Oz Show, I was the Director of the Food Safety & Sustainability Center at Consumer Reports. It was a dream job for a preventive medicine physician. Essentially, our mission was to empower and protect consumers by ensuring the safety of the food supply. It entailed extensive scientific testing, data analysis, as well as policy and advocacy work. A lot of this didn’t sit so well with corporate special interests—but that’s the great thing about Consumer Reports, it exists to serve consumers only. It was sometimes a little daunting to see the powerful impact we had on population health, but always amazing to be part of.
When the opportunity arrived to do similar type of work at the Dr. Oz Show, I couldn’t pass up the chance. I’ve always been interested in how things work behind the scenes on television and now I get to be part of a team that uses what is probably the most influential medium to put the world of health information in context so viewers can make informed and healthy choices.
How do you balance the science of your specialty with the entertainment value of the show?
The Bloomberg School has a great motto: “Protecting Health, Saving Lives--Millions at a Time.” When people ask me if I miss seeing patients, I think of this motto and how many lives I can improve through my work in the media. Ironically, we were also taught at the school of public health, that you can’t expect people to adopt healthy behavior through education alone. You need broad-based policy initiatives to influence how people think and act. It can be economic, like taxes on soda, or environmental. like not allowing smoking in restaurants. I think of what happens in the media as a form of education, but a much more powerful one, because the media is able to create cultural changes. Shows like ours have the power to inspire healthy behavioral change on a large scale, but also to make it fun and entertaining. There is science behind all of the health advice we give on the show and the entertainment value is important so that people keep watching it.
We see the show as a field guide, helping people navigate through the noise of conflicting health, nutrition and fitness advice. We meet our viewers where they are—they’re not experts—and spend a lot of time on issues they care about. We take them through the studies and the science and make the “geekiness” accessible and understandable.
We’ve had segments on everything from the explaining that the “five-second rule” isn’t actually a rule at all, to the evidence of the cancer risks of cell phone radiation, to the need to make lifestyle changes even if you are on a statin. We debunk myths and break down complicated subject matter so that it’s easier for viewers to make sense of what they see and read and hear.
What’s your role on the show?
My official title is chief of staff of the medical unit, which means I’m responsible for overseeing the unit that is charged with coming up with ideas for segments, researching and vetting scripts, evaluating expert guests, as well as creating medical animations and conducting tests. In addition, I collaborate with medical groups and government agencies to make sure that we getting their important public health messages out to our audience.
I work with a really impressive team of researchers and I’d love to have some NYMC students and alums rotate through our unit and bring their unique sensibilities to the show. It will open their eyes to how media works and how people think.
Any memories of NYMC that you’d like to share?
The most memorable thing is the people I went to school with. Some of my closest friends are former classmates. And I loved the basic science courses!
Did you want to become a doctor as a kid?
Actually, no, I didn’t! I had a lot of interests, a lot of hobbies. I always liked to be doing something. That’s why I like preventive medicine. It lets me do lots of things. I’ve taken an unusual path but I think it’s made me a more interesting person and a better physician.