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Business & Profession Professional Development, Cataract, Education and Training, Practice Management

Three Paths to Success

It’s true that building a successful career takes time. We spend years in college, medical school, residency, and possibly fellowship training. Despite the lengthy process, young ophthalmologists don’t have to wait another decade to reap the rewards of hard work.

Contrary to popular belief, being a veteran in your field isn’t the only measure of success. Rather, there are multiple levels of success for young physicians, many of which derive from an astute sense of self-direction and determination.

Since coming out of fellowship and working in practice, I have learnt many timeless and invaluable practices that have fueled my own career moves. I believe that all young ophthalmologists can master the art of career strategy by being intentional with their first moves.

Path one: maximize surgical volume
 

Unless you are pursuing a non-surgical career, you will have a surgical growth phase as you transition from trainee to attending. This transition can prove especially challenging for young ophthalmologists who only perform a few surgeries a week. Maximizing surgery volumes not only helps ease this transition but also, as identified by Habib and colleagues, leads to fewer complications; for example, when measuring the relation of phacoemulsification procedure volume with patient health outcomes (1). Similar trends have been identified when researching final visual acuity in high-volume versus low-volume surgeons (2). Related studies point to similar findings in coronary angioplasty, colorectal surgery, and various cancer-related surgeries. It is clear that performing more procedures can sharpen skill sets and develop crucial surgical experience (3).

This is a true win-win scenario for ophthalmologists and their patients. As practitioners’ experience and skill sets grow, surgery will no longer feel as daunting and stressful, but enjoyable and rewarding. Successful patients’ health outcomes will increase as ophthalmologists improve their practice, which in turn helps to accelerate a trusted and established professional career in the field.

Path two: maximize now
 

This move is catered towards young ophthalmologists who value stability and want to settle into their profession quickly. Typically, physicians find a sense of settlement after completing a residency or fellowship, or by finding the right job in the right city. Although settling down looks different for everyone depending on individual needs, the fastest way to achieve stability is by joining a large and established practice, a university, or a big healthcare system. A solid routine can provide practitioners with a contented and comfortable lifestyle, one in which everything falls into place.

Inevitably, the question is pressed: what now? Although work remains an integral part of day-to-day life, it is also important to schedule time off. Celebrating success and achievement in the form of a vacation not only provides well-deserved relaxation but can also motivate a practitioner to pursue the next stage of their career. Taking time off gives practitioners the opportunity to re-evaluate their next steps without the weight of professional pressure. So… why not take that dream vacation?

Path three: maximize later
 

Cultivating your ideal career takes time, but the payoff may be better than you expect. With education, training, and medical technology being as advanced as ever, surgeons – at all levels – are empowered to become more efficient and better skilled workers. Under the right guidance and with wise career moves, young ophthalmologists have the opportunity to advance in their careers and achieve their professional goals.

When discussing this path, it is helpful to use the “look down the hallway” test. When you look down the hallway and see your colleague sitting in the corner office, do you picture yourself in that same position one day? This analogy assumes that, although your job won’t seem ideal in the near future, you have the ultimate goal – spanning anywhere between one and 10 years – firmly set. This path renders somes aspects of the job, such as salary, hours, pathology type, and vacation, as secondary to the larger goal set in your mind.

When using this analogy, you must visualize what your “hallway” looks like. Is it a road leading to your own private practice? Is it pursuing an academic career? Is it working in med-tech? Or is it something that encapsulates your own idea of “success?” Maybe your ideal mix of surgery, medicine, and pathology type doesn’t even exist yet and is out there for you to build on your own.

There may be jobs that combine each of these moves into one position. If you find one, grab it and hold on tight. Most people will have to be patient but also dedicated. Learn from your surroundings and apply wisdom from your senior colleagues into your own career strategy.

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  1. M Habib et al., “The relation of volume with outcome in phacoemulsification surgery,” BMJ Journals, 88, 643 (2004). PMID: 15090416.
  2. JT Cox et al., “Visual acuity outcomes after cataract surgery: high-volume versus low-volume surgeons,” Ophthalmology, 126, 1480 (2019). PMID: 30974182.
  3. B Tabibian et al., “Enhancing human learning via spaced repetition optimization,” PNAS, 116, 3988 (2019). PMID: 30670661.
     
About the Author
Alexander Knezevic

Ophthalmologist with the Macy Eye Center in Los Angeles, medical staff at Cedars-Sinai, and a clinical instructor of ophthalmology at UCLA, California, USA. He can be reached via email at [email protected] and on Instagram @akadoctork.

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