George Burns/Harpo Productions
When an eager Mehmet Oz completed his Ivy League education in 1986, the sky was the limit on what he'd achieve. And he nearly reached it.
By 2004, the cardiothoracic surgeon had earned a spot in Oprah Winfrey's heart, serving as her go-to medical expert on The Oprah Winfrey Show and ultimately earning his own eponymous syndicated daytime talk show backed by her production company.
Dr. Oz became America's doctor, teaching viewers about their bodily functions and putting health in terms that everyone could understand. But even before Oprah selected him as a protégé, doubts were brewing in the medical community about his approach to the profession — doubts that would later boil over and spark backlash.
In recent years, Oz has embraced his bruised reputation and crusaded into far-right politics, dropping the veil of neutrality he stood behind for most of his career. Now under a microscope as the pro-MAGA candidate in the Pennsylvania race for U.S. Senate, Oz routinely faces criticism for his motives, beliefs and questionable medical record — including a recently resurfaced scandal involving the cruel treatment of animals by Columbia University research teams that he oversaw.
Here, a timeline of the rise and fall of Dr. Oz.
Mehmet Oz graduates from Harvard in 1982
1986: Mehmet Oz Earns Dual Graduate Degrees from UPenn
After earning an undergraduate degree in biology from Harvard University in 1982, Oz went on to study at the University of Pennsylvania, where he graduated with a Doctor of Medicine and Master of Business Administration, according to his Senate campaign website. About.com reported that in medical school, he served as class president then student body president.
1995: The 'Therapeutic Touch'
When a story about Dr. Oz's experimental alternative medicine practices at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center dropped in The New York Times Magazine, he became one of the most interesting figures in the medical world. But even as a star among colleagues, fears were reportedly spreading among staff that the public attention called to his unscientific practices was damaging their credibility.
According to Jerry Whitworth, whom Oz opened an alternative "mind-body" care center with inside the hospital, complaints about Oz's credibility reached top administrators. New York magazine reported that Oz and Whitworth were told they'd at least need to stop practicing therapeutic touch — an unsupported "energy therapy" in which a practitioner waves their hand over a patient's body to balance their "energy field" — if they wanted to keep the center afloat, because it was too damaging to the hospital's name.
The small adjustment allowed the center to stay open, but Whitworth later told New York that they "were merely tolerated" at the hospital.
1996: A Taste of Stardom During the World Series
During the 1996 World Series, cardiothoracic surgeon Eric Rose was tapped to perform a life-saving heart transplant surgery on retired MLB player Frank Torre, with Dr. Oz serving as deputy surgeon. The highly publicized operation was successful, and a day after the surgery, Torre watched from a hospital bed as his younger brother's MLB team — the Yankees — took home the championship.
Rose was briefly a hero — and by association, Oz was too. "[It] was his first big splash of publicity, and he loved it," Rose recalled to The New Yorker in 2013. Reflecting on the media frenzy, Rose told the outlet that he believes it prepared Oz for the career path he would go down.
Howard Earl Simmons/NY Daily News Archive via Getty
2003: Columbia University Whistleblowers Allege Animal Cruelty
Recently resurfaced reports revealed that in 2003, Oz was wrapped up in animal cruelty allegations at Columbia University, where he was a professor of surgery and director of the Cardiovascular Institute at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center.
PEOPLE spoke with one of the whistleblowers, veterinarian Catherine Dell'Orto, who says that within weeks of her start as a post-doctoral fellow in the research labs at Columbia's Institute of Comparative Medicine in July 2001, she was horrified by what she saw.
Dell'Orto specifically said she witnessed the inhumane treatment of dogs in lab experiments investigating aspects of heart function over which Oz served in the role of "principal investigator" — including leaving dogs in pain and paralyzed for weeks, with no discernible research benefit, before they were euthanized or died.
Dell'Orto said she did not see Oz in the labs performing any of the dog experiments, which she says were directly conducted instead by Ph.D. students and post-doctoral fellows.
Columbia's website notes that when one is named principal investigator of a research study, he or she "has overall responsibility for safety and compliance in his or her laboratory." According to Dell'Orto, other principal investigators did come into the lab and directly oversee their animals' care, but with Oz, she said, "There were no endpoints. What I saw was abuse."
2004: First Appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show
Oprah took a liking to Oz after appearing as the first guest on his short-lived Discovery Channel show Second Opinion with Dr. Oz in 2003. The following year she invited him to come on The Oprah Winfrey Show, and soon enough he had become her go-to medical guru, ultimately appearing on the talk show more than 60 times.
The Oprah Winfrey Show
2005: The Poop Episode
One of Dr. Oz's breakthrough television moments was when he opened the conversation about one of the most common (and least discussed) bodily functions: poop.
On May 3, 2005, 39-year-old Maureen — a true martyr for the cause — described her bowel issues on national television, prompting Oz to give a lesson on what healthy bowel movements look like. Viewers will never forget Oprah's reaction to hearing the stool descriptors "tiny marbles" and "S-shaped" in her studio.
The episode branded Oz as a poop expert, and showed that no health topic is too embarrassing to talk about.
2009: The Dr. Oz Show Premieres
On Sept. 14, 2009, Oz flew the nest built by Oprah and started his own syndicated talk show (with the help of Harpo Productions). The show ran for more than 12 years, airing its final episode in January of 2022.
2011: Arsenic & Apple Juice
When The Dr. Oz Show told viewers that apple juice contains dangerous levels of the cancer-causing chemical arsenic, it was like "yelling 'Fire!' in a movie theater," his former med school classmate Dr. Richard Bresser told Good Morning America. Except there was no fire, the FDA said.
At the start of his third season, Oz geared up to declare that tests conducted in the show's lab revealed several samples of apple juice exceeding the safe limit of arsenic. Professionals on the matter, including the FDA and one of the apple juice manufacturers, warned Oz before the segment aired that his methodology was inaccurate and would be irresponsible if publicized because it failed to distinguish between organic and inorganic arsenic. (Organic arsenic, commonly found in juice, has not been linked to cancer.)
Oz went forward with his claims anyway, sounding a false alarm — and subsequently losing viewers' trust when the FDA intervened to set the record straight. Proper tests conducted by the FDA on the same batches of juice revealed a significantly lower arsenic count that they deemed "no cause for concern."
Rather than retracting the misleading claims, The Dr. Oz Show stood by them. Oz defended himself on World News with Diane Sawyer, and a spokesperson for his show refuted being irresponsible, instead declaring, "We think the public has a right to know what's in their foods," per CBS News.
Harpo Inc./AP Dr. Oz
2013: Oz's Early Career Mentor Questions His Science
Surgeon Eric Rose, who gave Oz his first career job after medical school at a Columbia-affiliated hospital, told The New Yorker that he believes Oz is talented, but doesn't agree with his scientific "baseline."
"I want to stress that Mehmet is a fine surgeon," Rose told the outlet. "He is intellectually unbelievably gifted."
He continued: "But I think if there is any criticism you can apply to some of the stuff he talks about it is that there is no hierarchy of evidence. There rarely is with the alternatives. They have acquired a market, and that drives so much. At times, I think Mehmet does feed into that."
Asked if he would send a patient to Oz for an operation, Rose replied, "No. I wouldn't," adding that Oz had become more of an entertainer. "In medicine, your baseline need has to be for a level of evidence that can lead to your conclusions. I don't know how else you do it. Sometimes Mehmet will entertain wacky ideas — particularly if they are wacky and have entertainment value."
2015: Doctors Call for Oz's Firing from Columbia
After years of questionable medical claims airing on The Dr. Oz Show, a group of doctors from various institutions called for his firing from Columbia University, where he'd continued to hold a high-level role in the surgery department.
"We are surprised and dismayed that Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons would permit Dr. Mehmet Oz to occupy a faculty appointment, let alone a senior administrative position in the Department of Surgery," read the letter, addressed to Columbia's dean of medicine, Lee Goldman.
"Dr. Oz has repeatedly shown disdain for science and for evidence-based medicine, as well as baseless and relentless opposition to the genetic engineering of food crops," it continued. "Worst of all, he has manifested an egregious lack of integrity by promoting quack treatments and cures in the interest of personal financial gain."
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"I bring the public information that will help them on their path to be their best selves," Oz responded in a statement, according to USA Today. "We provide multiple points of view, including mine, which is offered without conflict of interest," the statement continued. "That doesn't sit well with certain agendas which distort the facts."
In the medical world, Oz's show had long been criticized for at times leaning on alternative medicine and alleged pseudoscience. Episodes explored "miracle" weight loss products, the possibility of Ebola becoming airborne, and the (widely disgraced) practice of conversion therapy. Plus, there was the arsenic in apple juice controversy.
2016: Trump Enters the Picture
Oz wasn't always seen as a political figure. But in the final months of Donald Trump's presidential campaign, Oz gave his fellow TV star air time in what CNN suggested at the time was an attempt to boost popularity among female voters.
On screen, Oz took hold of Trump's physical exam results to decipher them and asked some questions about his health; he then used that "comprehensive" information to report to the world that Trump is in good condition. Vox called the segment "disturbing," and described it as "Trump's post-fact politics meet Oz's medical misinformation showmanship."
Later, during President Trump's administration, Oz was appointed to the President's Council on Sports, Fitness, and Nutrition.
2020: Dangerous COVID Claims Sink Popularity
In the first weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, Oz appeared on Fox News more than 25 times to promote hydroxychloroquine/chloroquine — an antimalarial drug also used for treating lupus — as a cure for the novel coronavirus, according to The New York Times, despite lacking evidence that it was safe or effective. (CNBC recently reported that Oz owns at least $630,000 in stock in pharmaceutical companies that distribute hydroxychloroquine.)
Soon Trump began suggesting hydroxychloroquine to his followers, leading to a shortage of the drug for people who needed it. In April, the FDA reported deaths associated with using the drug to treat COVID-19, and by June, determined that there was no evidence to support the benefits of the drug outweighing the adverse effects.
On top of the unverified drug claims, Oz was criticized in April for making dangerous and flippant comments on Sean Hannity's show. "I just saw a nice piece in The Lancet arguing that the opening of schools may only cost us two or three percent in terms of total mortality," Oz said, suggesting that putting children back in school — even as cases skyrocketed — was a "very appetizing opportunity." In the face of widespread backlash, Oz soon apologized for his suggestion.
Dr. Oz/Twitter The original, unedited Dr. Oz image
2021: Senate Campaign Launches in Pennsylvania
Oz ultimately earned the endorsement of Trump, helping him narrowly defeat hedge fund executive David McCormick in the 2022 Republican primary.
Dr. Mehmet Oz/Twitter
2022: Jersey, Puppies and Crudités Taint the Campaign
Since the Pennsylvania primaries confirmed that Oz would be facing off with Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman in November, the television star's campaign has repeatedly blundered, in large part due to Fetterman's internet savvy method of painting Oz as something of a laughing stock.
From day one Fetterman's most public rebuke of Oz is that prior to the campaign, he hadn't lived in Pennsylvania since getting his Ivy League education in the '80s. Fetterman has alleged that Oz still doesn't spend much time in Pennsylvania, instead splitting his days among various properties around the globe, and that his status as a wealthy outsider doesn't qualify him to understand Pennsylvanians' needs.
Fetterman hit the point home in a number of ways — having Snooki record a video reminding Oz that he's a Jerseyan, erecting a billboard about Oz's residence on the New Jersey/Pennsylvania state line, and flying a banner over the Jersey Shore while Oz was visiting there that read "Hey Dr. Oz! Welcome home to NJ!"
Then came the crudités "scandal," born from a bizarre video Oz posted that shows him shopping for what he calls "crudités" and talking about how high the prices have gotten. He was criticized for misnaming the popular Pennsylvania grocery store he was in and describing a veggie plate with a word most voters don't use.
More damaging than the viral video itself was his team's response to the situation, when a senior campaign adviser tried spinning Oz's veggie-filled grocery list as a way to harp on Fetterman's past health issues, saying, "If John Fetterman had ever eaten a vegetable in his life, then maybe he wouldn't have had a major stroke."
In October Oz suffered a late-campaign setback when the news about his link to Columbia University animal experiments in 2003 resurfaced. Even if a stretch, people almost instantly began tagging #PuppyKillerOz in tweets.
*With reporting by Diane Herbst.