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Outstanding Female Leader in Ophthalmology | Sept/Oct '20

Outstanding Female Leader in
Maria C. Scott, MD

Dr. Scott is the Chief Medical Officer of Vision Innovation Partners, Founding Partner and Medical Director of Chesapeake Eye Care and Laser Center and Chesapeake Eye Surgery Center, and Medical Director of TLC Laser Eye Center in Annapolis, Maryland.

Please share with us your background.

At age 12, I spent the better part of a year in and out of Shriner’s Hospital, undergoing traction, surgery, and body casts. While there, I was influenced by the children with far more serious disabilities than mine, and I emerged wanting to be a pediatrician.

It wasn’t until my medical school rotation in ophthalmology that I fell in love with eyes. In an exam room at Wills Eye Hospital, I watched an ophthalmologist examine an elderly Italian man as his numerous family members stood against the wall and observed. The patient’s visual acuity had gone from counting fingers to 20/20 after cataract surgery and corneal transplantation. Everyone in the room thought the surgeon was a god. I marched down to the program director and proclaimed that I wanted to become an ophthalmologist.

In turn, I applied to almost every ophthalmology residency program in the country and was fortunate to match in Washington, DC. I quickly realized that, during training, I could see and do as much as possible while under the guidance and umbrella of my attendings, and I was determined to be the best I could be. I ultimately became Chief Resident, setting the stage for a career not only focused on medicine but also on mentoring.

After training, I went to work for a solo ophthalmologist in the suburbs of Washington, DC. It was a great time to build my confidence. Two years later, I moved to Annapolis, Maryland, where I tried to join a practice. However, the doctors felt that the area had more ophthalmologists than it needed, and they did not want to incur the expense of a new associate. Fortunately, two ophthalmologists in the area were kind enough to allow me to use their space when they weren’t there, and that became the start of my career.

For some time, I was a one-woman show. I wrote letters to all of the local internists, pediatricians, and optometrists to introduce myself and make appointments to meet them. I took colleagues’ call to fill my schedule. I read books on practice management and customer service, learned Excel spreadsheets, took all emergency cases, and wrote letters to every doctor or patient who referred a patient. The first few years were lean, but I used that time to visit other practices and surgery centers to learn from others who were successful—a practice I continue to this day. By 2015, my one-woman show had grown into a 10-physician multispecialty practice with a two-room surgery center.

Through the years, I observed how many practices struggle with the increased burdens of regulation and the business of medicine. Physicians in the twilight of their careers are without an exit strategy, while young graduates, encumbered by school loans, are reticent to take on more debt to buy or join a practice with the uncertainty of reimbursements. Practices struggle to hire and train good technicians and staff, leaving them exposed to human resources and compliance liabilities. My practice had built an infrastructure to address these needs, which we wanted to share.

In 2017, we decided to partner with private equity to create a group of talented physicians in all stages of their careers. Our group now comprises 15 practices in 28 locations with 71 physicians and more than 500 employees. I love having a large group of partners and colleagues to exchange best practices, pearls of wisdom, and challenges. We want to improve the patient experience and outcomes by allowing our doctors to focus on their patients. With the number of seniors increasing, ophthalmology as a specialty must boost its efficiencies, and we have found that a team of health care providers is valuable for accomplishing our goals. It is rewarding to be a part of a forward-moving solution in the changing landscape. I look forward to continuing to mentor the next generation of surgeons and to ensure their success with support and encouragement.

What is the focus of your recent research?

Most of my focus has been on clinical medicine related to cataract surgery, IOLs, best practices, and outcomes. I have participated in numerous FDA clinical trials on IOL design. I enjoy being able to offer new lenses to patients who otherwise may not be able to afford the technology. Our patients and staff enjoy doing their part to advance ophthalmology and improve quality of life.

What has your experience been collaborating with industry?

Our industry partners are just that: partners. We share a common goal to improve eye care and optimize patient outcomes. I have thoroughly enjoyed working with small and large companies on clinical trials, research and clinical advisory boards, software development, and patient outcomes. Performing a high volume of surgeries affords the opportunity to notice trends quickly. Being part of the first wave of a new technology is exciting and rewarding. Physician feedback is valued by industry, and industry’s support and innovation is why ophthalmologists are where we are today. When I was President of the Outpatient Ophthalmic Surgery Society (OOSS), I enjoyed the collaborative efforts of industry in supporting our programs and educational endeavors. We must continue to advocate at the national level to ensure our ongoing ability to work with our industry partners.

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

There is no limit to what women can do. When I trained, there were very few female role models and women on the podium. I applaud the early mentors, including Marguerite McDonald, MD, FACS; Penny Asbell, MD, FACS, MBA; Lisa Brothers Arbisser, MD; and Sheri Rowen, MD, among others. It has been wonderful to watch the roles of women in ophthalmology expand over the past 25 years. Women are now in leadership positions as chairs of departments, presidents of ophthalmic organizations, residency directors, managing partners, and CEOs of ophthalmic companies. Women are also now positioned more front and center in meeting programs. This trend will likely—and should—continue. It is important that we maintain our support for each other and not only break the glass ceiling but also pull others through with us.

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

The hardest challenge for working women in health care and other professions is not feeling guilty or being penalized for their natural role in a family. It is one task that we cannot always delegate. Many of us struggle with when to start a family for fear of professional ramifications. We need to change the stigma associated with being a mother and its effect on our careers. We also need to be unapologetic. As Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said, “I do think women can have it all, but not all at the same time. Our life comes in segments, and we have to understand that we can have it all if we’re not trying to do it all at once.”

I am extremely fortunate to have a wonderful partner who has supported my career and shared in the household duties and in caring for our two children. I am also grateful that I could afford a wonderful nanny who doubled as my second wife and that I had the support of my mother. Surround yourself with people who lift you up and make you the best you. You will constantly be making tradeoffs. Life is rarely a straight line, and it is about balance, choices, and flexibility—recognize that it is not always a bowl of cherries.

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

Pick and be a good partner, both professionally and personally. Surround yourself with people of character and conviction with a sense of humor—your life will be better for it. Sit down and write out your 1-, 5-, and 10-year goals. Make a career plan but be willing to change it. Get involved at your hospital, in your community, and within your own practice. Be a great example and cheerleader for others, and continue to strive to be the best you. Identifying your goals early makes the journey more purposeful and, in some ways, easier.

Additionally, be resilient and optimistic, and align yourself with like-minded colleagues. Find a trusted group of individuals with whom you can share your victories and your mistakes. You will make mistakes, and sometimes despite not making a mistake, patients will not do well. Learn from these experiences, compartmentalize, and grow. Get involved in societies on a deeper level, as doing so will make meetings more enjoyable and meaningful.

Last, don’t forget about yourself—make time for exercise, family, friends, and the hobbies you enjoy. We are so fortunate to have the instant gratification of our work to restore sight. There is no better place to be than in ophthalmology and no better time to positively influence your community and the world in a meaningful way!

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

I am a visual learner, and, although it takes time and costs money to visit other ophthalmic practices, I have always found the exercise valuable. Developing a group of practicing ophthalmology leaders in academia and private practice who are willing to have young doctors shadow them would be beneficial for those coming out of training. In addition to shadowing in the clinic and in surgery, the young doctor should be included in closed-door meetings with the administrator, clinic manager, accountant, or hospital CEO. These are our future leaders, and the more we do to support their development and growth, the better our industry and the greater community will be.


  • Outpatient Ophthalmic Surgery Society (OOSS): President, Vice President, Board Member
  • American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO): Councilor
  • AAO Leader Development Program Graduate
  • Women in Ophthalmology (WIO)
  • Society for Excellence in Eye Care (SEE)
  • American Society of Cataract & Refractive Surgery (ASCRS)
  • American College of Eye Surgeons (ACES)
  • American Board of Ophthalmology (ABO)
  • Maryland Society of Eye Physicians and Surgeons (MSEPS)
  • Ophthalmic World Leaders (OWL)
  • Vison Innovation Partners: Chief Medical Officer and Board Member
  • Johnson & Johnson Global Strategic Advisory Board Member
  • Redwoods Board Member
  • Anne Arundel Medical Center Foundation Board Member
  • Collaborative Care Network Membership Committee
  • Ophthalmic Instrument Cleaning & Sterilization (OICS) Task Force