Think that doctors only work in hospitals? Think again. Institute of Politics Fellow Howard A. Zucker has shed his scrubs for a life in the political sphere. Zucker will be at the IOP for the entirety of the spring semester as a fellow, so FM decided to probe deeper into this doctor/lawyer/jack-of-all-trades.
Fifteen Minutes: You have held numerous prestigious positions at the World Health Organization, at the White House, and at the United Nations. Where does IOP Fellow rank among these illustrious positions?
Howard A. Zucker: I tend to be extremely critical and I tend not to exude superlatives, but I do find this a fantastic place to be. This is a rare opportunity in my career to actually step back from the moment and return to environment that helped me shape my career—college. I think the IOP is probably one of the most unique positions that I’ve held. These are the most rejuvenating months that I’ve experienced in my career in a long time.
FM: Do you think that a lot has changed since you were in college?
HAZ: Society at that point wasn’t so interconnected with wireless technology. A term paper was typed on a typewriter so it wasn’t just cut and paste. And also, people went to libraries for reference, rather than to just study. You’d spend hours sitting in the stacks.
FM: Have you had a chance to sit in on any undergraduate classes?
HAZ: I’ve been sitting in on Douglas Melton and Michael Sandel’s class on bioethics and I have fun listening to not only the debate between the two professors, but also between the students. I find it fascinating.
FM: You must have spent a lot of time in class since you graduated from medical school at 22! How did you manage that?
HAZ: When I went through the school system in New York City, you were able to skip grades. That, on top of finishing medical school in three years instead of four, allowed me to finish by 22.
FM: Not only that, but you have a B.S., an M.D., a J.D., and a Masters in Law. Do you enjoy being a student that much?
HAZ: School is the most secure environment you can find! It allows for an academic freedom that is unmatched in many other forums.
FM: Well, thankfully, that education paid off and you ended up as a White House Fellow. What was life like in the White House?
HAZ: It was a great opportunity to see how government works and it does not really matter so much which party is in power as much as how agencies work. Also, hearing the perspectives of other White House Fellows was extremely helpful.
FM: You worked on bioterrorism while you were there. So, what’s the verdict? Are we safe?
HAZ: I think that there is an extremely talented group of scientists and public health experts working to protect America, however, there is always a risk out there.
FM: What do you think the Obama administration’s number one priority should be in terms of public health?
HAZ: Of course everyone’s really focused on the uninsured, and how can they not be? Actually, when I returned from Geneva to the US, I was uninsured for one day and I didn’t leave my apartment in fear. If on that one day, that’s how I felt about living without health insurance, think about the millions of Americans who live everyday knowing the potential for disaster could cause a major financial crisis.
FM: With the WHO you’ve traveled all over the world. Is there any particular place you have an affinity for?
HAZ: It depends. From the standpoint of beauty, culture, history, and renaissance, I’m going to go with Italy. From the standpoint of where this world is going, I would say China.
FM: I know we’ve talked policy, but let’s hear more about the doctor part. You’re a certified pediatric cardiologist—what draws you to child health?
HAZ: The free spirit of a child makes for a positive work environment. And you never know if the child that you save today will go on to make major changes in his or her lifetime.
FM: Do you practice medicine anymore or is it all policy?
HAZ: Now it’s policy, although I’m looking at everything in terms of what I’m going to do after the IOP post is over. One thought is going back to the clinical world.
FM: If you don’t currently practice medicine, I hope you at least get to watch some good medical dramas. “Grey’s Anatomy”? “House”?
HAZ: I do watch “House,” but it’s not like I run home to watch it. I find the intellectual exercise of trying to figure out what’s going on with the patient very interesting.
FM: Do you think House is an accurate portrayal of life as an American doctor?
HAZ: Not necessarily. Some of the things he does would not allow him to maintain his job. But I’ve actually met doctors like “House.” I’ve met my share of doctors like all the characters on that show.
FM: You may not be House, but you’ve been named one of the Best Doctors in America. Clearly, you’re talented. Is there anything you can’t do?
HAZ: I guess I wish I could play basketball. I hear that’s important for certain jobs.
FM: So if basketball is out, you should consider coming back to work at a hospital in Boston. Given it any thought?
HAZ: I like the medicine here, but I guess the only challenge that I have is that it’s very hard to have been born in the Bronx and to stay quiet about being a Yankees fan.