About 2 years after fellowship, I was working to get established in a private practice in Orange County, California. One day, I received an unsolicited offer to take over the refractive surgery service at a prestigious university department. After 2 years of private practice, I was headed for practice growth, but I missed the exciting environment of research and teaching.
I thought about the offer very seriously. But then I realized that it is entirely possible to do high-quality research in private practice. In fact, companies sponsoring clinical research prefer to partner with private practitioners rather than university departments because university institutional review boards can be cumbersome to work with. I further realized that Orange County is the Silicon Valley of eye care—an area that has more ophthalmology startups than any other place in the world. There really could not be a more fertile environment for developing an academic private practice.
In hindsight, it was a very good decision for me to stay in private practice. We now conduct many clinical trials and do independent research, and I have had opportunity to collaborate with dozens of companies with early-stage devices, making every day at the office unique and exciting. I would never have realized these opportunities had I not considered the unsolicited job offer that, ultimately, I chose to decline. Doing so made all the difference in my career.