His first experience in the public eye was during season eight of "The Bachelor," where he looked for love on reality TV. But Dr. Travis Stork didn't end up finding his true love there. An emergency room doctor in his off-screen life, it wasn't long before the 41-year-old was noticed for more than his good looks and engaging personality. In 2008 he became the host of the syndicated daytime show "The Doctors" with a panel of three other doctors who discuss all sorts of health issues. It airs locally weekdays at 12:30 p.m. on WPXI-TV. Last June, he married fellow physician Charlotte Brown.
What got you interested in medicine? Were either of your parents doctors?
No, no, my parents were farmers from the Midwest. I'm the first doctor in my family, and it really came about from having a desire to do something that mattered. It took me a few years out of college before I realized I wanted to be a doctor. I actually went back to take my science classes so I could go to medical school.
That's great. A lot of people would think it was too late.
What's ironic is my mom asked me, "Are you sure now because you are older?" But it was the best decision of my life. I have no regrets. It was also nice because going back, taking classes to get ready for med school, I think I had a little bit more experience and maturity. So medical school for me was a great experience rather than one that I dreaded.
Do you find it takes a certain level of confidence to become a doctor?
I think competence is much more important than confidence in medicine, because if you are overconfident in medicine, that can be dangerous. Medicine surprises me each and every day. Every day we learn something that contradicts what we thought was a paradigm. So medicine requires you to actually be very humble. Nobody knows everything in medicine, no matter how great of a doctor you are.
In the early days, were you ever afraid you were going to kill someone or miss a diagnosis?
I went into work every single day afraid. People have to remember you start from scratch as a physician. That first day you go into work with an M.D. at the end of your name, you don't know what you will be taking care of. I will never forget going to my first cardiac arrest. You think it over so many times that it's reflexive. That is one of the things I did when I was in my training. So when it first happened it actually felt natural. Of course, in emergency medicine it is something you see quite a bit. You do see things you can never imagine seeing if you weren't in medicine. We train for so long that you do become competent and confident. You want to get to the patient because you know you can help save their life. It is a process and if you aren't scared when you start you are probably lying.
Do you still practice and do the show?
We actually all still practice and do the show. We try to share with people on the show not only things we know, but experiences our patients are having. One of the beautiful things about the practice of medicine and how it has translated on our show is you are teaching some of the same things. As a doctor, you are only sharing it one patient at a time. On the show, the same lessons are viewed by millions of people. It is something I didn't value or understand until I was on TV.
Absolutely, I never intended to be on television. I never intended to do that [laughing]. It was all an unexpected happenstance, and from that I learned the power of television. On "The Doctors," I learned how TV can not only be powerful but really a provider of valuable information. That is one of the things I love as a doctor, sharing with patients advice that can help them live better lives. That is what we try to do on the show as well.
What do you find to be the most frustrating thing about patients?
It is obviously frustrating when you feel you care more about your patients' health than they do. But what I've learned in my career is that usually it is a misunderstanding or it's situational or patients don't feel empowered. So I don't really get frustrated by patients. I get frustrated by the system. We live in a system where it is really hard sometimes for patients to make the right choices and where patients often don't come see a doctor until they are really sick. That is where we need to do a better job of teaching prevention.
They actually have more power over their health in their daily decisions than I, as a physician, ever will. So it is frustrating with that mentality that maybe we fostered in the medical world: "Come to us. We will fix you," rather than "You have a lot of tools at your disposal to help prevent problems before they start."
There is a lot of talk about preventative medicine, but often when you go for a regular checkup, it is all about symptoms.
That is the unfortunate reality of our current health care system, which is more broken than anyone realizes. Whether you are talking about the emergency department where you are trying to see three or four patients every hour, many of whom are on death's doorstep, or you are in a primary care office and you are looking at a list of 60 patients in one day, some of it is beyond the control of the physician.
Every physician would say they would love to have more time with patients to talk about the foods they are eating, the activity levels they are engaging in and things the family is doing to improve overall health. That is why we went into medicine. The fact of the matter is at present the way our health care system is set up, some of the best doctors in this country are unable to see enough patients to make ends meet. That is something I profess loudly. We need to change the system so that doctors can spend more time with patients and get them excited about their health.
There is a groundswell of support for doctors having the chance to doctor more, or setting up patient care teams where you are not only having conversations about health and wellness with the doctor but also the nursing staff and patient care coordinators and social workers. That is the model we are working toward.
As far as the show, is weight control the most popular topic you deal with?
What I've learned, and I say this sincerely, is that the topics that I am passionate about and that we as doctors are passionate about are the topics our viewers are passionate about. So obesity is obviously at the top of that list right now. It's a growing epidemic, and it is the leading health concern of this century at present because of how it leads to so many cases of Type II diabetes and heart disease. It is really a chronic disease which kills seven out of 10 Americans. It is something we talk about a lot because chronic disease is something people have a lot of potential control over in terms of eliminating or preventing symptoms or helping to control them. That's where we can give a lot of viewers bang for their buck.
Being a doctor married to a doctor and working in the E.R., can all that knowledge start to make you a bit of a hypochondriac?
No, it's the opposite. When you take care of so many different people with so many different conditions in the emergency department, you start to learn that our bodies are actually extremely resilient.
My sister will punch me for saying this, but my sister has always been someone who if she has a sore throat or a cough it's not a simple cold. It's lung cancer. She has gotten better about it because I have shared with her the resilience of the human body. We live in a country where if we develop a little runny nose we have been conditioned to think we need to see the doctor to get antibiotics. If you give [your body] the opportunity, meaning you rest it and you nourish it and take care of it, it is amazingly resilient. That's why so many seemingly inconsequential choices we make each day do play a huge role in our body's ability to fight off disease, illness, cancer. You would be amazed at the remarkable recoveries I have seen in my career.