Over the span of our careers, our insights and skills are in a constant state of evolution, fueled by growing experience. Despite this, there are some constants that are true from the very beginning of our training until we are ready to retire. When I reflect on how I have gone through my career up to this point, three central themes come to mind: lead, serve, and engage.
As an ophthalmologist, I have always thought of leading as introducing new technology to the practice or leading the way in the practice. When starting out, I entered a practice with a senior ophthalmologist who, despite being a leader when he was younger, had grown accustomed to his practice methods. Although he was not interested in incorporating new technologies into his routine, he encouraged me to do so. This gave me the opportunity to implement new technologies and for our practice to become the first in our region to perform several techniques, including RK, laser refractive surgery, premium IOLs, and laser cataract surgery.
For me, introducing new technology to the practice and community was a way to lead, and it has offered many advantages. You learn a lot when you are the first to try something new, and that experience is invaluable. Being a leader in technology has also helped our referral network; optometrists send patients to us because they know we provide the most advanced care their patients can get. Having this reputation has been a powerful tool.
Being a leader in new technology also gives you the chance to learn from your mistakes. When you do things first, you sometimes aren’t doing them correctly. The things that go wrong, the issues you encounter, the patients who have difficulties, and the lessons you learn from all of that become invaluable in building confidence in yourself and in what you can do in your practice.
When I was a resident, I was fortunate enough to attend a program called Future Focus, which was run by Alcon many years ago. As part of this program, residents could attend a weekend seminar with experienced physicians, who would come in and teach the nuts and bolts of running a practice. Attending Future Focus was really my first experience thinking about the business aspects of medicine and the patient experience. I remember hearing a seasoned doctor talk about how he wrote letters to patients who sent their friends in to see him, telling them how much he appreciated their referral. Today, that seems like such a basic thing, but back then it was revolutionary. Although the specific act might change, the idea is the same: Create a unique experience for your patients.
The last time I was in Japan, I had the privilege of staying at The Peninsula hotel in Tokyo. While I was there, the experience created for me as a guest was something I had never experienced in a hotel before. Every detail was perfect. When I returned home, I felt inspired to incorporate some of those concepts into my practice and revitalize that idea of creating a unique and memorable experience for my patients.
There are two factors I have always tried to remember when serving my patients:
1. When a patient comes in for surgery, he or she may be one of 20 patients you operate on that day; however, for the patient, it is the only time he or she hopes to ever undergo eye surgery. Never lose sight of the fact that the patient is coming to have this procedure one time in his or her entire life, so everything that happens from beginning to end leaves a significant and lasting impression.
2. Although we physicians complain about how medicine is changing and how beat down we are by the health care system, patients experience the same frustration. It is difficult for them, too. Sometimes they have to switch plans and deal with increasing premiums and copays. I try to remember that and, thus, create an oasis from all of that in my practice so that the patient comes away thinking, “I’ve never been treated like that before.” This is not always easy—we drop the ball occasionally, but we try to pick it up as quickly as we can and go from there.
When I was in college at the University of Colorado, there was a quote posted above the entrance to the library that read, “He who knows only his own generation remains always a child.” I saw this quote countless times but never really understood what it meant until I entered this profession. To me, this means making sure that you engage in your profession at all levels vertically. I know so many individuals who spend time only with people in their age range. However, interacting with people in my age range as well as those younger and older than me has enriched my life professionally and socially. Sometimes the social events we engage in at meetings are some of the more fulfilling parts of my life. Ophthalmology is a great field, and the people in it are wonderful people to get to know; the experiences you gain from doing so will truly enrich your life.
As I have gone through my career, keeping these three themes in mind has proven to be immensely valuable. As I have learned, striving to always lead, serve, and engage will help you thrive, both professionally and personally.