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One To Watch | Jan/Feb '14

One to Watch: Sumit (Sam) Garg, MD

Sumit (Sam) Garg, MD

Sumit (Sam) Garg, MD

Sumit (Sam) Garg, MD, is the Vice Chair of Clinical Ophthalmology, Medical Director, and Director of Technology and an Assistant Professor of Cataract, Corneal, and Refractive Surgery at the Gavin Herbert Eye Institute, University of California, in Irvine.

What drew you to ophthalmology and, specifically, to your field of interest?

Growing up in a household with two physicians, gravitating toward medicine was natural for me. I had the opportunity to see firsthand the life of physicians, which made my career choice a little more insightful. To their credit, both of my parents were able to balance their professional and personal lives, which further solidified my interest in medicine, personally and professionally.

My decision to pursue a career in ophthalmology was a little more challenging. When entering medical school, I was not particularly set on a specialty. However, through my exposure to several specialties, I knew that I wanted to be a surgeon. As is common in most medical school curriculums, my exposure to ophthalmology was limited. So, I decided to take a year off in between my third and fourth year of medical school and complete a 1-year research sabbatical at the Doheny Eye Institute. It was during that year that I truly was able to experience both the clinical and surgical aspects of ophthalmology, thereby solidifying my decision to pursue a career in ophthalmology.

During residency, I thought I wanted to pursue a career in retina. However, after learning more about each subspecialty, it was apparent to me that cornea was the clear winner. I truly enjoy the variety of patients and pathologies that I encounter on a daily basis. Additionally, the patient satisfaction is extremely high in cornea, adding to my professional satisfaction.

Please describe your current position, both clinically and academically.

I wear many hats at the Gavin Herbert Eye Institute/University of California Irvine (UCI) Department of Ophthalmology. Currently, in my fifth year of clinical practice, I am an Assistant Professor in the school of medicine. At a hospital level, I am Medical Director for both of our clinical sites—the main hospital clinic in Orange, CA, and our new eye institute building located on the main undergraduate campus of UCI. Last, within my department, I hold the titles of Director of Technology and Vice Chair of Clinical Ophthalmology. I feel very fortunate to have the trust of my colleagues to be in these leadership positions at our growing institute.

Who are/were your mentors?

Throughout my training, I have had many mentors. I would have to say that my primary professional mentor is Roger Steinert. Dr. Steinert has always been very supportive of me, both professionally and personally. Not only was he involved in my training as a resident, he was also my fellowship director. We have evolved our relationship from that of mentee-mentor to now being colleagues and friends. I derive much of my drive to succeed by looking at what he has accomplished and what he continues to accomplish in his career.

To what do you attribute your success?

I attribute my success to the tremendous support I have received throughout my educational and professional careers. My parents, wife, friends, colleagues, and teachers have all instilled in me the confidence to succeed in all that I try to do. Hard work has a little to do with it as well!

What has been the most memorable experience of your career thus far?

The most memorable experience of my young career thus far is the opening of the Gavin Herbert Eye Institute building. From the time I joined UCI as a resident, there was talk of a new building. After many years of hard work and fundraising, our department was able to realize this dream. The whole process definitely gives me an appreciation for the importance of philanthropy and the relationship between academic institutions and private entities.

What is the focus of some of your research?

My research interests are quite varied. To date, most of my research has focused on femtosecond laser keratoplasty. Currently, I am the principal investigator at UCI for Avedro’s accelerated cross-linking protocol. I am also starting a prospective study evaluating various methods for pressurizing the eye during cataract surgery and its effects on intraoperative aberrometer readings.

What are some new technological advances that you have found particularly exciting? Which advances in the pipeline are you most enthusiastic or curious about?

One of the reasons that I love what I do is the constant innovation of products and technologies that seems to arise almost daily. One area of interest for me is IOL calculations in post-refractive surgery patients. The ORA intraoperative aberrometer (WaveTec) has made this previously nerve-wracking exercise much easier. I find it particularly useful for aphakic readings and have found myself leaning more toward the reading from the ORA compared with my previous methods.

Another technology that is extremely interesting to me is corneal collagen cross-linking (CXL). CXL has the promise to be a real game-changer for cornea specialists. Not only am I excited about its applications for keratoconic patients, but other potential applications are equally as exciting, especially for infectious keratitis. Last, I am very eager to see how corneal inlays enhance our ability to treat presbyopic patients.

What is a typical day in your life? What keeps you busy, fulfilled, and passionate?

My typical day is pretty busy. It starts at home with my two kids, Naya (7) and Rayan (6). I do my best to help them get ready for school and then make my way to work. Aside from patient care, I spend my time at work in meetings related to operations or teaching. After work, I try to spend some quality time with my wife and kids. I have to say that I would not be able to get through my day without my wife, Romi, picking up the slack! I do enjoy watching sports and can often be found in front of the computer (doing emails, etc.) with SportsCenter on the TV in the background. I am a big Lakers fan (although this year they are horrible) and a bigger USC football fan (looking forward to next season)!

What advice can you offer to individuals who are just now choosing their career paths after finishing residency or fellowship?

At the end of the day, make sure you are honest with yourself with respect to what setting you choose to work in. There is often the expectation to pursue academics. You have to make sure you are happy in your professional life. I am a big believer that this will translate into a happy home life. The saying goes, “happy wife = happy life.” I would say, “happy work life = happy home life (and wife) = happier work life.” It is all connected.