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Outstanding Female Leader in Ophthalmology | Mar/Apr '14

Outstanding Female: Audrey Talley Rostov, MD

 Audrey Talley Rostov, MD

Audrey Talley Rostov, MD

Dr. Talley Rostov practices at Northwest Eye Surgeons in Seattle, Washington.


Please share with us your background.

I completed a fellowship in cornea and anterior segment surgery with Richard Lindstrom, MD, which was valuable for acquiring and expanding my surgical and clinical skills, becoming involved with clinical research studies, and also for learning management skills relating to staff and patient interactions. Dr. Lindstrom is an amazing teacher, a skilled surgeon, and a wonderful, kind person. It was an honor and a privilege to do a fellowship with him.

I am currently a partner at Northwest Eye Surgeons, PC, a large group multispecialty ophthalmology practice in Seattle. I am a cornea, cataract, and refractive surgeon, with a special interest in presbyopia-correcting IOLs and femtosecond laser-assisted keratoplasty.

I am also on the medical advisory board of SightLife, a global health organization whose mission is to cure corneal blindness worldwide. I am involved with the global team and travel to India to help with skills training for local corneal surgeons there. In addition, I have become involved with the Himalayan Cataract Project and have helped to expand an international corneal fellowship to train cornea surgeons from Ethiopia.

I am involved nationally with several American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) and American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery committees and have the privilege of serving as a board member of Ophthalmic Women Leaders.

I am fortunate to live in the Pacific Northwest with my amazing husband and three great kids.

What is the focus of your current research?

My current research is focused on treatment modalities for keratoconus. I am an investigator in the CXL-USA clinical study evaluating transepithelial corneal collagen crosslinking for the treatment of keratoconus and corneal ectasia. I also perform femtosecond laser keratoplasty and am evaluating both full- and partial-thickness transplantation methods. As part of the AAO’s Preferred Practice Patterns Committee, I recently wrote the new Preferred Practice Pattern guidelines on corneal ectasia. I have also been an investigator with several IOL clinical trials.

What has your experience been collaborating with industry?

I have collaborated with several companies on different clinical trials, mostly with surgical devices. I enjoy being on the leading edge of technology and learning new and creative ways to treat diseases and restore vision. Working with industry allows me to have early access to new technologies and to perform innovative surgical procedures. I am an early adopter and find it fun and exciting to try new surgical techniques and devices.

In your opinion, how is the role of women in ophthalmology evolving?

The great news is that there are more women in ophthalmology residencies and fellowships, which means more women entering the specialty! With this changing demographic, more women will hopefully be interested in taking on leadership roles in practices and organizations, resulting in greater numbers of women on the podium and emerging as leaders in the field. Recently, I have been impressed by two industry company leaders who are striving to include more women in the ranks of leadership. Allergan has a women’s advisory board for dry eye, and Nicox has an advisory board composed of 50% women. These are the first industry advisory board meetings that I have attended that clearly made the inclusion of women a priority. Hopefully more industry leaders will follow these examples.

What, if any, hurdles do you feel women in health care still face?

Ophthalmology is still a predominantly male surgical specialty. There are still greater numbers of men on the podium and on committees in all of our subspecialty organizations as well as in the C-suite. On average, men still earn more than women in the same specialties. The increasing number of women surgeons but the lack of women in visible leadership roles makes it more challenging for women to have role models and to visualize themselves in leadership positions.

In addition, issues of combining and blending professional and family responsibilities should be viewed as family issues, not just women’s issues. For women who have made the decision to spend more time with their families, especially when their children are young, achieving leadership roles—such as becoming a partner in a practice, attaining a tenured position, or moving up the ranks in a company—may require more time and diligence. I think that it is important for women to consider the possibility of growing into these sorts of positions, even if it might require more time, rather than dismissing these opportunities. For example, if a woman is working reduced hours or days for the first 5, 10, or 15 years of her career, she can still make the choice to increase her work schedule and productivity and/or take on other roles and responsibilities in her practice, company, and/or professional societies, even if this occurs later in her career.

What advice can you offer to young female ophthalmologists who are still in training or just beginning their careers?

Just because you are a woman in a (still) predominantly male surgical specialty, it doesn’t mean that you have to emulate any of the less desirable traits of some of the men in the field. In general, I find women to be more collaborative, less ego-driven, less narcissistic, and less self-absorbed. It’s OK to be competitive, but there is a difference between healthy competition and stepping on and over other people just to get ahead in your career. Having a positive outlook on life and being friendly and open to new ideas are traits that will help you throughout life. Remember that when you approach patients, you are coming from a mindset of healing. It is important to listen to your patients, as many of them are scared. Be confident and don’t be hesitant to demonstrate your clinical and surgical competence.

In addition, ensure that in contract negotiations you are getting a similar deal to your male counterparts, especially if there aren’t any other women yet in the practice. One of the best groups that I have become involved with is Ophthalmic Women Leaders (OWL). I have met women in different fields of ophthalmology, from CEOs and C-suite executives in industry to practice administrators and other surgeons. OWL provides opportunities for making connections, mentoring, and developing better management, interpersonal, and team-building skills through social programs and courses at major meetings and with online workshops and resources.

Remember to have balance in your life. Challenge yourself in different ways. Find passion in some outside interests such as running, cycling, art, yoga, or dance. Remain (or become) physically active. It will help relieve stress and help you feel and be at your best.

Every morning I meet my running partner for a 5-mile run or a strength and conditioning workout with a personal trainer. On weekends, I do longer runs and/or go cycling with a women’s cycling team, snowboard in the winter months, and do standup paddling in the summer months. During the last year, my husband and I have made the time to go cycling in Maui and to a surfing camp in Costa Rica. It is important to remember to keep your spouse/partner as a priority in your life and to carve out some date nights and vacations with him/her.

Can you propose a unique or creative idea that may help women in ophthalmic practices?

I really think that issues of work-life balance should be viewed as family and workplace issues, not just as women’s issues. As men are more integrated into family lives, there will be (and is starting to be) a trend in this direction. As the composition of professional households change, changes in the workplace environment should follow. Easier access to and availability of daycare and job sharing are some ways that can make life easier for young families. Although there is the obvious fact that people who work less are going to bring in less income, supporting the women (and men) who make this choice can lead to increased practice/company loyalty and a future of increased productivity and increased happiness over time.