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One To Watch | May/Jun '14

One to Watch: Gary Wortz, MD

In case there was ever any doubt, the future of ophthalmology is in good hands! Millennial EYE presents a series highlighting the “One to Watch.” In each issue, we will profile a rising star, one who may not be advanced in years but has already made great advances in our field.

Gary Wortz, MD

Gary Wortz, MD

Gary Wortz, MD,is a cataract and refractive surgeon at Koffler Vision Group in Lexington, Kentucky. Dr. Wortz is also the Founder and Chief Medical Officer of Omega Ophthalmics.

Please share your background with us.

I am a comprehensive ophthalmologist originally from the beautifully quaint town of Delton, Michigan. However, after graduating high school, I went to Asbury University just outside of Lexington, Kentucky, where I completed my BA in Chemistry. I married my college sweetheart, who is a Kentucky native, and then completed medical school at the University of Louisville. We had both of our children during medical school, which made a busy time much more fun and interesting. I then returned to Lexington for my ophthalmology residency at the University of Kentucky, finishing in 2008. Since then, I have been practicing in Lexington and the surrounding communities. The primary focus of my practice is cataract surgery, with secondary interests in refractive surgery, cornea, and ocular surface disease as well as ophthalmic research.

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

I went to medical school knowing that I wanted to be a surgeon. I had always enjoyed working with my hands, and I usually found enjoyment in tasks that others found tedious. After completing all of my surgical rotations, I never found a specialty that really fit my interests and personality. Eventually, I decided to shadow a prominent ophthalmologist, Asim Piracha, MD, during a day of cataract surgery. That day changed everything for me. I watched a master at his craft, and, after seeing cataract surgery that day, I knew I would be happy doing that for the rest of my life. Dr. Piracha became a friend and mentor, and it was my honor to follow in his footsteps as Chief Resident at the University of Kentucky.

Please describe your current position.

I currently work out of three offices, one in Lexington and two satellites approximately an hour away in different directions. I operate 3 days per week and focus the majority of my time and energy on cataract surgery. The 2 days a week I am in the clinic, I am seeing the surgical consults as well as a fairly high volume of complex cornea and ocular surface disease patients. In addition to this, we have an ophthalmic research institute in our practice, and we are seeing these patients in the same setting.

I am also the Chief Medical Officer of Omega Ophthalmics, an IOL startup company that I founded. We are developing a new IOL that will make effective lens position more predictable, resulting in greatly improved refractive outcomes.

Who are/were your mentors?  

I have been blessed to have a multitude of mentors who have helped shape me. As I mentioned previously, Dr. Asim Piracha was hugely influential to me. He went out of his way to help me when I was a medical student and helped influence my decision to stay at the University of Kentucky (UK) for residency. It was great to have an example to aspire to as a resident, and I made it my mission to try to be as well respected as a surgeon by the time I left. I also have to identify all of the attending physicians at the UK Department of Ophthalmology who patiently helped in my training. Lastly, my current associates Drs. Bruce Koffler and Paul Karpecki have been great colleagues who have taught me a tremendous amount in the 3 years I’ve been with them.

To what do you attribute your success?

Success is typically a function of working hard at something you enjoy doing well. For me, cataract surgery has been an area that I continue to be passionate about. I enjoy the process, and satisfied patients give me the positive feedback that inspires me to keep working hard at it. Making a difference in people’s lives never gets old.

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

About 2 ½ years ago, I had an idea for a revolutionary new lens implant. What started as just a back-of-the-napkin idea has developed into a full-fledged startup company. One of the most exciting moments within this venture was receiving the first prototype and holding it in my hands. It was amazing to see something that I had envisioned become a reality.

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

I believe that changes in lens technology and biometry will usher in a new world of refractive surgery and refractive outcomes in cataract surgery. The Calhoun Light Adjustable Lens and other laser-adjustable lenses are particularly exciting. There is another lens that produces accommodation through a liquid crystal display from Elenza that is quite exciting as well.

Intraoperative aberrometry is another area that has enormous potential, which
I believe is still untapped. Stay tuned.

What is the focus of some of your research?

I am interested in two main areas of research. The first area is pertinent to my IOL. We are currently going through proof-of-concept studies; however, the lens is designed to eliminate the variability of lens position in cataract surgery. If we are correct, this could mark a major transition in the way lenses are calculated, as it would make all previous theoretic formulas obsolete.

The second area I am interested in is determining the true pathophysiology of glaucoma. Until we really understand the cause of glaucoma, we will never be able to target neuroprotective therapies that could fundamentally change the way we treat glaucoma. I believe we are on the right track with a new glaucoma model, although time and further research will be needed to validate it.

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

Each day is different for me, and I think that is vital to keeping me from getting stuck in a rut. I am doing surgery 3 days a week and seeing patients in clinic whenever I’m not in the OR. I have great technicians who help keep things organized, which is key.

My true passion, however, is solving problems. I love cataract surgery because it is a solution for cataracts, not just a treatment. I enjoy looking at problems from different angles and trying to come up with new ways of solving them. I also enjoy talking to other people who are engaged in problems or engaged in solutions.

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

My first advice would be to take a deep breath and know that you are simply at the beginning of your new life as an ophthalmologist. You don’t have to know exactly how you want to practice or which setting will be most suitable. Most ophthalmologists will need to try a few different opportunities before finding the right fit. That’s normal.

Secondly, follow your own path. Only you know what makes you happy. Once you figure that out, pursue it and make it the primary part of your practice.

May/Jun '14