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Subspecialties Cataract, Refractive, Cornea / Ocular Surface

Doing Right by Everyone

What led you to ophthalmology?

As cliché as it sounds, I’ve wanted to be in medicine since I was four years old. My mother actually discouraged me from going down the more traditional academic route and encouraged me to explore different interests, but I was drawn to the humanism of medicine.

When did you know you’d made the right choice?

I can honestly say that going into residency was that awakening for me. There was no hands-on OR experience during medical school, so I was anxious about my potential as a microsurgeon. Residency was the “a-ha!” moment when I knew I’d found my calling. It was where so much of my life began. I met my husband during residency, and was able to connect with a profession – and a career – that made me feel alive. It was hugely impactful.

Ophthalmology is such a unique blend of medical and surgical care, it really encompasses the joys of being able to positively impact our patients, and maintain relationships with them at the same time. And, unlike other fields of medicine, morbidity is pretty low. I knew I couldn’t desensitize myself from taking care of very sick patients.

What are the highlights of your career so far?

There are two that come to mind. The first occurred very early on in my career – my fellowship training and then faculty position at the Cullen Eye Institute at the Baylor College of Medicine. My four colleagues, including Doug Koch and Steve Pflugfelder, truly covered the breadth of the anterior segment sub-specialty, from complex lens-based surgeries through corneal and external disease management. Not only are they experts within our field, but they are also real gentlemen. It was a huge deal for me to train under them, but to be colleagues of theirs? That’s a sincere highlight. They also taught me that it’s all in the details. Between the exposure, the expertise and all that they have contributed to the field, both Doug and Steve are the quintessential clinician scientists.

Do you have any other “heroes?”

Dick Lindstrom to me is in a different realm. I respect him for his continual commitment to ophthalmology, to driving innovation and to putting his money where his mouth is. I recently learned that he was one of the inventors of Opti-Sol, the storage media that we’ve used for decades with corneal transplantation, which is tremendous in itself. More than that, he donates all of the royalties to different eye banking associations. To have someone like Dick reinvesting funds just to create better technology in the realm of cornea is invaluable. Can you imagine a time when we’re able to inject endothelial cells or potentially 4D print ocular tissue? Cornea as a field has been relatively stagnant in therapeutic advancements. We have been doing it the same way with transplantation for decades more or less! And we may have continued, were it not for someone like Dick.

How are you finding motherhood?

It’s a “hat” that I’m still growing accustomed to! My kids are five and seven and that’s happened in the blink of the eye. Though I know each stage of motherhood is a challenge in itself, I try to sit back and enjoy each moment, tame my impatience and anxieties, while putting every effort into making sure I do a great job. We must strive to be the best people we can be, but we shouldn’t beat ourselves up over the failures.

Do you struggle to balance work and motherhood?

Absolutely! The struggle lies in doing right by everybody. It’s really exciting to be involved with extracurricular opportunities, whether that’s volunteering or working with industry on innovations, but you get to a point when some of these opportunities collide with family commitments. It goes back to not rushing in too quickly and saying “yes!” to everything. I want to do right by those I say yes to!

I gave myself a goal: by the time my children are 10, I need to be around more, because shaping their adolescence is the biggest responsibility I have, aside from my responsibility to my patients.

Outside of ophthalmology, what makes you happy?

My family is the big one! But I also meditate and do yoga. I make sure I take time to refuel. You can’t give to others if you don’t center yourself spiritually and mentally – something I didn’t recognize the importance of 10 years ago.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Don’t rush the process. If there are tough decisions that need to be made – and there will be many, both personal and professional – don’t rush them. Step back, enjoy each success and learn from each failure. Ever since I was little, I’ve rushed, rushed, rushed. I entered school at the age of four, graduated from high school at 17, and entered medical school at 20. It was great to have those opportunities, but I’ve come to realize there is so much to enjoy in the present because time goes by so quickly.

We should all aspire for greatness, setting slightly unrealistic goals that push us beyond our comfort zones.Whether we’re teaching residents or committing to research, we are all helping patients and bettering our field.

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About the Author
Elizabeth Yeu

Elizabeth Yeu is Assistant Professor at Eastern Virginia Medical School and Cornea, Cataract and Refractive Surgeon with Virginia Eye Consultants, VA, USA

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