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Cover Focus | Nov/Dec '18

Somehow, Some Way

My grandfather founded Williamson Eye 70 years ago. He had four sons, and all of them went into ophthalmology. So, from the get-go, the bar was set high by my family and ophthalmology was always a part of my life. But I never felt pressured to become an ophthalmologist, to be honest. The only pressure I felt was to achieve and to be successful in some discipline where I could make a difference.

As a kiddo, I was mischievous and had issues with authority—still do, sometimes! I hit a couple of bumps in the road during high school. When that happens, next thing you know, you have teachers and coaches questioning how much you will amount to, and that takes a toll. After a couple of disciplinary issues, I sat down with my dad, and he said, “You’ve got to fix this. You must choose a path forward right now and start working toward it.” So, when I was 15, I decided to become an ophthalmologist, and I’ve never looked back. My parents were always supportive and pretty relaxed as long as we (1) had a professional goal and (2) were working toward it with success.

After that, I turned inward, and I started reading and writing a lot. I fell in love with music and developed a great group of friends with similar taste in music and art. I began recording different bands and producing audio tapes for them to use in their promotional kits. My friends and I would drive down to New Orleans and sneak into live jazz shows on Frenchmen Street when we were 17. We followed bands around the United States, recording them. By the time I got to college, I had really chilled out. Everyone else was just taking off, and I was already putting down my landing gear. I’d experienced it all, grew up fast, and was like, “Man, I’m ready to study now.” Looking back, that was a major turning point.

Although I had matured, the obstacles didn’t stop. When I didn’t get into medical school the first go-around, I was crushed. I felt like I would never be able to join my family’s practice. It seems like this is now a regular occurrence with how competitive medical school has gotten, but it still stung. Instead of giving up, I went and earned a master's of science from Colombia University in New York City and worked in research to boost my CV. Fortunately, I got into medical school on my second try, and I did well enough to secure an ophthalmology residency 4 years later.

During residency, I felt like I was surrounded by rocket scientists and was so impressed by my brilliant colleagues. But, instead of feeling unequal and intimidated, I keyed in on what I was good at and what I was put on earth to do: perform cataract surgery and take great care of patients. I focused on my goal of becoming a high-volume private practice cataract and refractive surgeon. I got involved in research, studied as hard as I could, and operated as much as possible. And, somehow, some way, I made it.

Blake K. Williamson, MD, MPH