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Choose Your Own Adventure: 6 Tips for Career and Life Fulfillment

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I was inspired by the JAMA article “The Other Generation” to think about what matters to me in my career and in my life. In the article, the authors envision a conversation from the standpoint of 3 doctors: one in training, one midcareer, and a senior internist. The messages may hold true for each generation, but also can carry messages for ophthalmologists of any age, at any career point. These are in order of importance to me based on life experience, and perhaps they will speak to you as well.

  1. Medicine to be fun

    Let’s face it. We all spend a lot of time being doctors. If you do not enjoy it, what are you doing but spending time? If you aren’t happy and you are a trainee, change careers now. If you are mid-or late in your career, reevaluate your life. You have earned the right to be happy.

  2. Focus on family

    Work is a 4 letter word, as my husband reminds me at times. Your family, particularly for parents, is your greatest treasure and creation. No matter how great a doctor you are, your family members will be the ones at your bedside when you’re not at your best. Your family photos are among your most prized and irreplaceable possessions – aside from the people, of course. This also speaks to work-life balance; find your own and do not feel you need to defend it.

  3. Be passionate!

    The value you bring your patients is not only your intelligence, but also your passion and caring. There are times you may not know the answer that you are asked by a resident or medical student, but you can show that you care enough to seek the answer with her, or remember to ask her for the answer tomorrow. Perfection is not a requirement, nor is it feasible. Our patients need our passion too – even if it means holding hands with the parents of an 6-month-old whose eye you are about to remove for retinoblastoma, or a 60-year-old who is about to undergo cataract surgery on his only eye. Yes, we need skill but skill without passion is not caring. Our patients criticize us justifiably these days for not caring.

  4. Know when to review the results yourself

    Another way to think about this is holding yourself to the highest practice standards. Do you really want to explain why you did not open the PACs viewer to see the MRI that showed the pituitary tumor the night before the patient had pituitary apoplexy and was urgently admitted?
    Take time to participate in your hospital Peer Review Committee. Not only will you know more about your hospital and your colleagues, but you may also re-evaluate your own practice. Most members of your hospital medical staff (and the C suite) will give you bonus points if you’re an ophthalmologist and know what the Peer Review Committee is, let alone serve on it.

  5. Deal with uncertainty

    Practice and life is full of unknown outcomes. Be honest but hopeful with your patients and with your family. Your children and parents and spouses do not expect you to be superhuman – only you do. Be mortal. Take a few minutes for yourself and refresh yourself. A pause for yoga or even deep breaths can be restorative.

  6. The importance of continuity

    I have been privileged to know some of the greats in ophthalmology personally. You will likely have similar opportunities – avail yourself of them. My generation learned how to do intracaps and extracaps and then phaco. I have done extracapsular surgery manually, and have done dozens of cataract surgeries on adults with no IOL (imagine that!). Glasses, while not optimal, can yield excellent vision. I have placed iris clip lenses, AC lenses, and PC IOL’s, including foldables (in children as young as 10 months). Sometimes residents need to know there is another option for the adult who is developmentally delayed, self-abusive and blind from a dislocated mature cataract. The grey-hairs among us are the link to the past, and lessons learned there.

Yes, there are generational differences in doctors. But, I submit we have more in common than different.

To the family of medicine. Salut!

See: Gupta S, Mak S, Detsky AS. The Other Generation, JAMA, April 7, 2015, pp 1319 – 1320.

About the Author - Dr. Linda Christmann