A Conversation with Oliver Medzihradsky | See previous interviews

Oliver Medzihradsky
Clinical Instructor

Oliver Medzihradsky

From where does your surname originate? Will you please tell me about your family?

The surname, Medzihradsky, is from a tiny part of Yugoslavia that has changed hands many times and is Serbian in today’s world. My dad was born there, while my mom was born in Northern Germany. They started talking to each other at the cafeteria one day at the Technical University in Munich, and the rest became history.

Was medicine always your chosen career path?

Not so much. In fact, I was well on my way to following in my dad’s footsteps in basic science in biochemistry when in my final year of college I realized that I wanted more interaction on a daily, but constantly changing, basis with people of all backgrounds. So I changed gears and applied to a combined science and medicine career.

How tall are you? How is your height an advantage and is it sometimes a disadvantage?

In the morning, I'm about 6'7" or so and at the end of a day on the wards, around 6'4". In terms of advantages, I guess it could have been more of one had I chosen a different career path, e.g., hoops; otherwise, in my current profession, I sometimes think it makes it easier for people, including patients, to remember :that tall guy." The disadvantage is that, until I become independently wealthy, I have to fly coach and drive an economy car, both with my knees up around my earlobes.

How many languages do you speak? In which do you best express what is important to you?

I speak English, French, German, and I’m starting to learn Spanish so that I can travel and possibly do medical work in South America—because it was our household language while I was growing up. German conjures up more family memories, so in that sense it’s more emotional; but if I had to write a poem, I wouldn’t want to do it in language but English.

Are you funny? What makes you smile?

I try to find the levity in most situations and I’m funny in a self-deprecating way. What makes me smile? Talking about myself (which I find awkward); a nice day outdoors and being able to be in it; an amazing bike ride; and being with people who have the same irreverent sense of humor.

You have, I believe, been an active runner and triathlete. Do you anticipate entering in future competitions?

Yes, after I adjust a bit more to the demands of life and a new job in the biggest city I’ve ever lived in. I think there will be plenty of opportunity once I get acclimated to San Francisco. I look forward to engaging in more sports activities.

You underwent a recent knee surgery; was it difficult to be physically limited?

Yes, it certainly made me empathize with people who battle severe arthritis or have other reasons why mobility is restricted. It gave me pause because I had to ask acquaintances to chauffeur me around and incorporate more time to get anywhere. It was humbling. When medical professionals have to undergo medical treatments, there is a particular sense of vulnerability and, for a brief moment, I had a glimpse of my physical limitations. I think we tend to take independence and mobility for granted. On the more positive side, people at Mount Zion were fantastically supportive, which felt so warm.

What other profession than your own might have been equally fulfilling?

I am not someone who feels like I had only one path destined for me in life. That being said, as a doc I’m grateful for our chance to put our hands on someone to make a diagnosis and make them better, and to be trusted in doing so; it is an amazing privilege. If I hadn’t become a physician—although it might have frustrating yet extremely satisfying—I thought about becoming a teacher, including the Teach for America program. I’m not sure if I would have preferred teaching high school or younger students; I like being exposed to young people who have an innate curiosity about the world before they’ve become jaded; then again teaching in college could be loads of fun too. Outside of medicine and teaching, I think it would have been fun being a professional athlete…or someone like a Jacques Cousteau, but on land—an explorer and animal conservationist, maybe even a wolf biologist.

Who is a hero that you admire?

I look to people such as Bill Gates who has financial security but chooses to donate a vast majority of it to altruistic purposes. At some point, creature comforts, well, you can’t take them with you. Having a legacy that is more enduring and affects people more profoundly—that is inspiring.

What temptation easily distracts you?

A gorgeous day outdoors. Unless I have a strict deadline, I find it difficult to not let myself go out paddling or be on a bike, even if it’s only for an hour, away from concrete. Same goes for a mountain climb or doing anything with friends—it is hard for me to turn that down.

Your desk is piled high with a huge number of journals. Do you really read them all?

Hey, they’re organized! When it comes to reading, one of my goals for the year is to develop a more systematic approach which, right now, I’d say is instead more impulsive—I go with what catches my fancy at the moment That’s why for now, it’s more about having an array of choices to read rather than reading a certain few from A–Z. Working on that.

Would you describe “impulsive Oliver” vs. “disciplined Oliver”?

I have a pretty solid barrier between the two so, yes, there are probably two of me in that sense. I am extremely methodical to a fault at work but, outside of work, I am impulsive about being outside or doing things that involve a little risk. I methodically plot out my five-year course—both for work, but also for climbs, athletic or fun trips. Yet, if someone asks on the spur of a moment to do an outdoors adventure and I have the time somewhat free, I’ll throw some things in a bag and hit the road within an hour.

Now that you’ve lived in San Francisco for a short while, could you, as the song says, leave your heart here?

I do think so. I’m not the kind of person who thinks that there is only one city or location that is optimal for me. But, as cities in the Continental US go, this is probably the best fit for me. The cities that I could be happy in have similar elements: culture, ethnic diversity, universities, and access to the outdoors particularly open water and elevation. San Francisco is probably the best constellation of features that I’ve found to date that are important to me.

Thank you, Oliver.

- by Oralia Schatzman

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