One To Watch | Jan/Feb '17

One to Watch: Bennett Walton, MD, MBA

In case there was ever any doubt, the future of ophthalmology is in good hands! MillennialEYE 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.

Bennett Walton, MD, MBA

Bennett Walton, MD, MBA

Dr. Walton is in private practice at Slade & Baker Vision in Houston, Texas.


Please share with us your background.

I grew up wanting to go into medicine or neuroscience and majored in psychology with emphasis in neuroscience at Vanderbilt. I ultimately opted for medicine and wanted a way to use my medical degree in a cutting-edge setting, so I took time off during medical school to get my MBA. Ultimately, I found ophthalmology to be the most interesting field due to the exciting, life-changing opportunities that come from combining patient care with technological innovation.

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

Ophthalmology—particularly the refractive and refractive cataract spaces—provides a unique environment in which both small startups and large industry players can innovate in a freer market to promote better visual outcomes. The benefits to quality of life are simply amazing within eye care, and we have a chance to participate in advancement every day.

Please describe your current position.

Our practice at Slade & Baker Vision is refractive, cataract, corneal, and anterior segment based. I have the pleasure of participating in clinical trials and product evaluation for devices, techniques, instrumentation, and implants, including femtosecond lasers for small incision lenticule extraction (SMILE), new IOL designs, intraoperative aberrometry, and more. There is always something new and exciting.

Who are your mentors? 

The most important is my grandfather, Brantley Pace, MD, who still practices family medicine in small-town Mississippi. The way he demonstrates care for people and genuinely earns trust is truly the art of medicine. I have had several mentors within ophthalmology, with Stephen Slade, MD, and Douglas Koch, MD, at the top. They are great teachers and great innovators and are always dedicated to their patients’ outcomes.

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

I performed a bioptics staged procedure on a young woman from overseas who had more than 20.00 D of myopia with astigmatism. At each step—preoperatively, after implantable collamer lens implantation, and then post LASIK—she was a completely different person, with more and more personality and spunk, transcending the language barrier between us. It is amazing to both observe and participate in the emotional lift that comes with improving vision.

A close second was after my first cataract surgery as a resident in the Veterans Affairs system. When the patient first opened his eye, he exclaimed, “Holy [expletive], I can see!” It is hard to top a natural dopamine surge like that!

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

There have been so many great advances, including SMILE, Descemet membrane endothelial keratoplasty (DMEK), presbyopic inlays, microinvasive glaucoma surgery (MIGS), and corneal collagen crosslinking. Let’s also not forget about the recent studies led by Kerry Solomon, MD, and Marianne Price, PhD, that have demonstrated phenomenal patient satisfaction with modern LASIK. Dr. Slade performed the first LASIK surgery in the United States back in 1991, and the results and safety have tremendously improved since then with each generation. For the future, I’m particularly excited about new IOL technologies and am looking forward to seeing the Light Adjustable Lens (Calhoun Vision) in more trials soon.

What is the focus of some of your research?

Right now, our active clinical trials include SMILE, the Symfony IOL (Abbott), two different studies with the AcrySof IQ Restor +2.5 D (Alcon), the Raindrop Near Vision Inlay (ReVision Optics) for presbyopia, and a smart-nomogram monofocal lens power study. We are also piloting lens choice software for the Holos intraoperative aberrometer (Clarity Medical Systems), which is a wonderful device. We have some exciting new things around the corner on the refractive side as well.

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

Every day is a little different, but the common theme for me is connecting with patients as best I can. There is an appropriate amount of stress that should come with being a surgeon, but there should be a high priority on unplugging, too. I love going to work, but I also love coming home to my family, playing music, and finding some time to exercise and clear my head.

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

For better or worse, there is a pipeline of achievement that shuttles doctors from college to medical school to residency and possibly fellowship. Pause for a moment to look both inside yourself and outside of the training pipeline at people of whom you might say, “Wow! I would love to do what he or she does.” If you are going into fellowship, make sure the fellowship will give you skills and open doors for what you want to do the most, not just serve as another part of the assumed pipeline. Lastly, be bold. Don’t hesitate to cold-call people you don’t know yet, and commit to keeping your practice modern with new advances.

Tell us about an innovative procedure you are performing or a new imaging/diagnostic tool that has improved your practice.

The HD Analyzer (Visiometrics) hasn’t changed what I do, but it has changed how I measure and communicate optical scatter in the visual system. First, this device can track the tear film’s dynamic scatter between blinks, allowing me to measure and then show my dry eye patients why their vision fluctuates throughout the day and while on the computer at work. Second, patients over age 45 who want vision correction need a particularly customized plan because lens clarity can vary so much. The HD Analyzer acts both as a double-check for a clear crystalline lens before LASIK or presbyopic inlay implantation and as a good communication tool for patients with early clouding who would benefit more from a lens-based procedure such as refractive lens exchange.

author
Neda Shamie, MD | Section Editor
  • Associate Professor of Ophthalmology, Doheny Eye Institute, University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine
  • Medical Director at the University of Southern California Doheny Eye Center-Beverly Hills
  • nshamie@doheny.org

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