The Flame asks Houston native Umesh D. Oza, MD, former program director of the Baylor University Medical Center, part of Baylor Scott & White Health, Radiology Residency and current vice-chair of Radiology, five questions about his time teaching at Baylor University Medical Center and his passions outside of medicine.
(Note: answers have been edited for length and clarity.)
1. How did you end up at Baylor University Medical Center and as part of the GME faculty?
I was finishing my fellowship at Harvard Medical School’s joint program for Nuclear Radiology and was offered a job at Brigham and Women’s and Dana Farber Cancer Institute. My wife had a great job with a biotech company in Cambridge, so we thought about living in Boston. But with the harsh winters and not having any family around, we thought we should check out Texas.
When I was looking for radiology jobs in Texas, I heard of a great opportunity to join American Radiology Associates. It was really a hidden gem for me. Not a lot of people outside of Texas know what a world-class group we have providing excellent subspecialty patient care alongside an outstanding group of clinicians at Baylor University Medical Center. So when I was offered the job, I took it without hesitation.
Within two years of being here, I had a resident casually ask if I’d consider being program director. I said ‘no.’ In my mind Dr. Ford, the program director at the time, had done such a great job with the residency program for such a long time, it was hard to fathom coming close to his leadership and success. Then another resident asked and then another. I started to wonder what was going on. It turns out Dr. Ford was encouraging them to ask me as he was ready to take on different responsibilities in our group. I put some thought into it and took the opportunity to try to live up to some incredible expectations.
I’ve absolutely loved being a part of the GME faculty. I’ve enjoyed the growth we’ve had in the residencies and fellowships, the success our radiology residents have at the regional and national levels, and the great relationship we have with Texas A&M and the undergraduate medical education.
2. If you could switch places with any other person at Baylor University Medical Center just for a day, who would it be and why?
If I could be the chef that decides all the food at Baylor University Medical Center–every tray a patient gets and every meal served in the cafeteria and to the doctors–that’s what I’d do for a day. I’d try to get everyone to try new and interesting food beyond their comfort zone. I’d have even more healthy foods–and I think Baylor University Medical Center does a good job with healthy foods–but I’d sneak in some vegetarian meals.
A lot of people are becoming more open to trying vegetarian and vegan foods. We’re not in the days where all vegetarian food tastes like cardboard anymore, and I think there’s a lot of new and exciting options people can try with plant-based diets. I’m not trying to covert people, but I think substituting a few plant-based meals could benefit our health and planet at the same time
3. What’s something you know now as a practicing physician that you wish you would have known about your job when you were training?
Always finding the silver lining is important. In medical school, you’re kind of bright-eyed and bushy-tailed about becoming a doctor. Then in residency, you kind of start to understand how medicine really works.
Practicing medicine in this country is fantastic, but there are certain frustrating things about it too. You start to see things that are within your control and things that are out completely of your control. So at the end of the day, you need to remember all the good reasons why you went into medicine, the specialty you chose, or the group you joined. If you concentrate on those facts, every day can be a great day. You can last in your career a long time if you focus on the positive aspects of your role in patient care.
4. If you didn’t become a physician, what occupation would you have chosen and why?
I would have loved to run a mechanic shop and work on cars. I love classic cars. I’m talking post-war cars anywhere from the 1950s to the ‘70s. I enjoy simple machines, and cars back then had a lot fewer computers involved. I would have loved to have a shop where I bought old cars that maybe hadn’t been driven in a while or been left in an old garage and restoring them back to when they came out of the factory–not modernizing them but keeping them true to the period.
That’s my passion, my hobby. I love tooling around with old cars. I have a son and a daughter, and I get them in the garage helping me as much as possible, and I truly believe they enjoy working on our cars. They love fixing things and learning about the car, so it’s a family experience. In some ways, you can compare it to medicine, as far as figuring out what’s wrong with the car and navigating the possibilities to get everything back to normal.
5. What’s the thing you want residents to remember most about their time with you?
The number one thing is hopefully they had fun learning. Hopefully, it wasn’t an intimating time or boring experience. Many people think that radiologists all have introverted personalities. But if you’re not social enough in a dark room, the days become long and drawn out.
Number two, I hope they realize the high expectations I had for them was for their own good. Whether it’s early in their career or further down the road, I hope they are reading a radiology case one day or studying or have an interesting consult, and they look back and reflect “I’m glad I trained with Dr. Oza”.