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Outstanding Female Leader in Ophthalmology | Nov/Dec '16

Outstanding Female Leader in Ophthalmology: Deepinder Dhaliwal, MD

Deepinder K. Dhaliwal, MD, L.Ac

Deepinder K. Dhaliwal, MD, L.Ac

Dr. Dhaliwal is a Professor of Ophthalmology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, the Director of Cornea and Refractive Surgery at the UPMC Eye Center, and Associate Medical Director of the Charles T. Campbell Ocular Microbiology Laboratory.

Please share with us your background.

I was born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago and attended Northwestern University, where I was enrolled in the Honors Program in Medical Education, a 6-year combined BS/MD degree program. I had a very special classmate, roommate, and cadaver-mate during medical school: my older sister, Roop Grewal! We were both inspired to pursue ophthalmology by my uncle, who is a fellowship-trained cornea specialist in India.

I completed my residency at the University of Pittsburgh and a fellowship in cornea and refractive surgery at the University of Utah. It was exciting to be involved with teaching refractive surgery as a fellow, and it is something that I have continued during my academic career. I was invited to return to the department at the University of Pittsburgh as the first Director of Refractive Surgery and have been there ever since. I met my husband when I returned to Pittsburgh and am blessed with two great children, Diya (age 10) and Kavi (age 8).

What is the focus of your current research?

I became a licensed acupuncturist in 2006 and am currently studying the role of acupuncture in the treatment of eye disease. We completed a study with dry eye patients and are currently investigating the role of acupuncture in treating patients with non-neovascular age-related macular degeneration. To answer a common question: No needles are placed in the eyes, but we do place needles in the orbit for this protocol.

We have just started a project on the prevention of corneal haze using a novel topical strategy and are also studying how descemetorhexis alone without corneal transplantation works in patients with Fuchs dystrophy. Another focus of my research is ocular microbiology and antibiotic prophylaxis. We are currently investigating different antiseptics on the ocular surface and the efficacy of intravitreal antibiotics/steroids. We have studied the utility of collagen shields and a microparticle gel as well.

What has your experience been collaborating with industry?

I have been involved with several multicenter clinical trials sponsored by industry both for drugs and devices. It is exciting to be on the cutting edge and to have access to technology that is not yet approved by the FDA. I have learned a great deal working with industry and enjoy contributing my ideas to further innovation. I have fond memories of helping to launch products by developing content and then educating colleagues. The exchange of ideas with interesting people in those small group settings was very meaningful.

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

It is wonderful to see more women entering medicine and ophthalmology. Women are perceived by patients to be better surgeons and more caring, so let’s ride the wave! In addition to private practice, it is great to see more women in senior academic and industry positions, including department chairs and CEOs. More and more women are seen at the podium, on panels, and on boards. The voice of women is becoming louder as our influence becomes stronger.

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

There are several hurdles women in health care still face. On average, our salaries are still not equal to men’s. Women I know have been told by their male bosses that they do not need to generate a higher income because their husband is making “plenty of money.” Women typically don’t ask for what they need and want, and they suffer consequences as a result. They progress more slowly in their careers and don’t rise as high as similarly talented men.

Another hurdle is the traditional role of childcare being only the woman’s responsibility. Women feel that they should sacrifice their career for the sake of their family, but this is not necessary. Creative scheduling and a great nanny can come to the rescue (of course, in addition to a supportive partner).

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

  • Find a mentor (or several). Networking is critically important.
  • Set goals (1 year, 5 year, 10 year). Ask your mentors how others have accomplished similar goals. Meet with mentors on a regular basis, not just when you are in crisis mode.
  • Learn to negotiate. I recommend a great book, Ask For It: How Women Can Use the Power of Negotiation to Get What They Really Want, by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever. It turns out that men initiate negotiations to advance their own interests about four times as frequently as women do. Men “make life happen,” but, in contrast, women typically “let life happen to them.”
  • Think for yourself. Don’t just follow the crowd; the crowd can sometimes be wrong! Understand what you are doing and why you are doing it. Always strive to stay current and learn new techniques.

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

Don’t forget to have fun! Enjoy practicing the best specialty in the world. Also, there is no such thing as work-life balance; it is really more of a juggling act (between family, clinical practice, exercise, hobbies, etc.). It is OK to drop a few balls now and again. Take time to take care of yourself. Don’t take your spouse and children for granted (make time for them as well). Be mindful. Stay centered.