Before Travis Stork was discussing medical issues with celebrities like Harrison Ford and Sally Field on the Emmy-winning talk show "The Doctors," he was treating patients a couple of hours up the road in Nashville.
Stork, who specializes in emergency medicine, made his TV debut in Season 8 of "The Bachelor" in 2006. He more recently left his faculty physician position at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and moved out west to be closer to the studios where he films "The Doctors" - which soon enters its sixth season and airs its 1,000th episode.
Stork will be returning to Tennessee this upcoming weekend for She: An Expo for Women, held at the Chattanooga Convention Center and sponsored by the Times Free Press.
He spoke with the Times Free Press about moving from the emergency room to the television studio; how to battle Southern obesity rates with simple changes; and the folks he calls "the nicest people in the world."
Q: You used to live in Nashville, but you live in Colorado now. How's that change been, and what do you miss about Tennessee?
A: It's proven to be a much easier commute to Los Angeles than from Tennessee. ... Vanderbilt was a wonderful place. It will always hold a very fond place in my heart. Who knows, when my time hosting "The Doctors" ends, my wife and I have talked about maybe going back to Nashville. Right now it's just to visit.
I miss my colleagues. And the one thing I always tell people is, if you've never been to Tennessee, you've never met the nicest people in the world. I think that I was spoiled. As a physician, especially in the emergency department, I found that people in Tennessee are just so nice and pleasant to work with, and that's not always the case across the country.
Q: You specialize in emergency medicine. You've since made the transition to this show where you talk about a ton of medical issues - but also a lot about people's personal lives and struggles. Had you already experienced a lot of ... that counseling ... as a doctor? Or has this been an adjustment?
A: One of the reasons I became a physician is because I am a big believer in the integrity of the one-on-one interaction that happens between patient and doctor. As an emergency room physician you are both a physician and a counselor. When people come to the E.R., they are both physically and emotionally drained. The emergency department has colored my every perspective and has helped me greatly as a television host because what I try to do is take the same mentality that I use as a physician; so if I am talking to people at home, I want them to feel like I'm speaking from my heart, and I think that's what I try to do as a physician.
When you work in an emergency department for your career, you always have to expect the unexpected. You always can feel a bit overwhelmed by how many people are in the waiting room. You're taking care of someone, and then a gunshot victim comes in. You may be having a really pleasant conversation with one person, and then someone comes in with a heart attack and you have to leave and go see them. And your days and nights are completely disjointed. Hosting a television has some similarities, because you never know what's going to happen onstage. Being an ER doctor has helped me roll with the punches over the years.
Q Diseases are such an equalizer, and health care is such a personal topic. Can you explain what it's like interviewing celebrities - people we see as these untouchables - in such personal, vulnerable conversations about their own health care? How does that impact your viewers?
A I hope viewers can learn through our show that celebrities are just like everyone else when it comes to health issues. The one thing we all have in common, no matter where you live, no matter how you were raised, no matter what your religion, we all have health in common and a desire to be as healthy as we can be.
Our show is the one time I think that celebrities do let their guard down and they always tell me offstage that they were really proud to come on our show and tell their stories, because you share a story on our show, you not only potentially help yourself, you help the viewers. The health care world can be scary sometimes. I think one of the things our show has been able to do is demystify it.
Q You've been in the South ... you know our constant struggles here: Obesity. Diabetes. Heart disease. What are things we can be doing to combat this in our schools, communities, day-to-day lives?
A I think when people come to hear my talk (at She), they will see that I actually say that healthy living starts in the kitchen. Hippocrates - the father of medicine, according to many - back in the day said, 'Let food be thy medicine.' The truth be told, in our country food has become something that causes a lot of health problems as opposed to preventing a lot of health problems. I think as we slowly shift from looking at food as something that harms us to something that can actually heal us and help us stay healthier longer, we'll see we are more in control of our health than we realize.
That's a roundabout way of saying that there's a lot of confusion ... and I saw a lot of people in Tennessee and in the South questioning, "Is this healthy or not?" This is a family effort, a community-wide effort. I think we're seeing a lot of towns in the South and in Tennessee, Nashville and Chattanooga as examples - promoting more opportunities for families to get active together. That can be building a new bike path or sidewalks.
This is where I'm truly, truly passionate. So much of the research shows that true health benefits come from the simplest of changes. When I give my talk, I talk about some of these seemingly inconsequential decisions because we all think you have to go to the gym for three hours every day to be healthy, but it's really more about can your family commit three, four days a week to take a 30-minute walk after dinner? That can be the difference between getting diabetes and not getting diabetes.
Q What are some examples of lifestyle changes in your own life?
A I say healthy living starts in the kitchen, but it really starts in the grocery store. We only bring foods into our home that we like, but that are also healthy. I always ask, "Am I going to enjoy this?" But I always ask "Is this good for me? How is this going to make me feel 30 minutes from now? What about 10 years from now?"
The other thing is that with my schedule, I travel a lot. Sometimes there are going to be weeks where I don't have time for formal, physical workouts. So what do I do? When I'm at the airport I actually walk up and down, stand before my flight. I'm on the phone with you right now on my feet. So I truly believe that it's some of these simpler changes that are doable that can make a big difference. The most important word in all of that is "doable." If you tell people that you have to exercise like a pro athlete, it's not going to happen because people don't have the time or desire. If you tell people that eating healthy is super-complicated, then it becomes intimidating.
What I've learned in my own life is the simpler I make health, the more healthy I am.
Contact staff writer Kate Harrison at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6673.