Three formidable figures from the 2022 Power List discuss the milestones that have brought them to the pinnacles of their careers
Aleksandra Jones | | Video
CEO, LifeLong Vision, FDA Digital Health Network of Experts, Former Medical Director, Technology Innovation & Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology, Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, Florida, USA. Visionary Innovation Mentor, Stanford University
Consultant Ophthalmologist, Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation, Professor of Artificial Medical Intelligence, University College London (UCL) Institute of Ophthalmology, London, UK
Professor, Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, Vitreoretinal Diseases and Surgery, Professor, Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, Director, Teleophthalmology and Research, The Eye Institute, Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA
Watch a panel of three key figures in ophthalmology – founders and owners of ophthalmic companies, chiefs of ophthalmology departments, winners of multiple awards, universally known and respected across the field – discuss milestones in their careers, and in their lives in general, that have brought them to the very top of their profession.
All panelists featured in this year’s edition of The Ophthalmologist’s Power List, which celebrates 100 most influential personalities in ophthalmology.
How did you first get interested in science, and in medicine in particular?
“English is my third language! I was born in Korea, and when I was nine, my family moved to Japan. And then my parents realised that there will be more opportunity for girls – and Koreans – outside of Japan, so they decided to emigrate to the US. When I came to the US as a fifth grader, I did not speak a word of English, and it was quite challenging. However, math is a universal language, and math is quite advanced in Asia, so it was a field that I could excel in, even though I did not speak the language. And that built confidence for me to go on.”
“It always seemed natural that I would go into medicine, as I’m from a medical family. My father is a recently retired anesthesiologist in Dublin, his younger brother was a family doctor in London, and his younger sister a family doctor in Northern Ireland. And if you’re a middle-class kid growing up in Ireland, and you’re good at school, it’s almost certain you’re going to do medicine or law! I was those things, and it’s been great, but a part of me looks back with some regret that I never considered doing computer science or hardcore math, or something similar.”
“I grew up in very rural West Virginia. My dad is the town doctor there, and I grew up watching him cater to all his patients. It was a unique experience, as I grew up without shopping malls, movie theaters and such. All we did was play sports and study! The experience of watching my dad with his patients inspired me to start my first company – a telehealth one.”
Do you have any special memories from medical school?
“Back in 1999 or so, I read about bionic eyes. I looked up the website of researchers involved, at the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins University. I found Mark Humayun’s website, his email address, and I emailed him as a medical student from a small country, Ireland, asking if I could come and spend the summer working with him! And two hours later he responded, saying “Come over!” So the next year I found myself in the basement of the Wilmer Eye Institute, doing research.”
How have your choices of residency and fellowship impacted on your career?
“Right after my residency, I started in private practice, and I think that my residency program at Texas Tech really prepared me to feel confident to do that, and I was super successful as a result. As it was going so well, I decided to start my own company, and when it got acquired, I got hired by Bascom Palmer.”
How do you combine different aspects of your careers and decide how much time to spend on practice, research, collaborations, and more?
“I was living and working in Los Angeles, US, and I heard about great funding schemes for clinician academics in the UK. I moved to the UK, and the National Institute for Health Research funded me as a clinician scientist, and more recently, I’ve been funded by UK Research and Innovation. It’s really amazing that I get 100 percent funding, and 20 percent of my work has to be clinical, with 80 percent protected for research, so I do one day a week in the clinic. The funding is specifically for research at the boundary of different disciplines, and between academia and industry – so where the magic happens!”
How do you feel about your career right now?
How do you choose whether to say “Yes” to opportunities?
“Early on in my career, I was just so flattered and thankful that I said “Yes” a lot, but around 10 years ago I got an executive coach as I was saying “yes” to too many things. We went through my priorities, and the coach made me consider them and not feel bad about saying “No” – those opportunities would come again. There’s a saying in Korea: ‘When you dig a well, dig one well, and deep,’ and I think I dug too many shallow wells, so now I try to limit that. The pandemic also made me consider the important things in my life, and how I can serve best with the talents I have at this moment.”
For those at the start of their careers: what could they do to achieve success in this profession?
“One of the books I’ve read that influenced me a lot in the last few years was Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success by Adam Grant, which shows that you can be a leader without having sharp elbows – it’s about being yourself and pushing forward. It shows that being generous, collaborative and kind are the superpowers of great leaders.”
What are your thoughts on The Ophthalmologist’s Power List – is it needed in this field?
“I’ve been reading the List every single year and waiting for it to come out every year. To me, it is an inspiration; I look at those people as my mentors. So it is very humbling to be on the List. I hope I have the same impact on people reading it, and I continue to learn from all the wonderful people on the list.”