Where did you grow up?
In Winnipeg Canada. My parents are both professors. My father was a number theory and calculus professor; he was the director of the United States Math Olympiad Team. My mother is an early childhood education professor.
How did you get from art history to ocular disease?
I always knew I wanted to go in to healthcare, I just didn’t love the idea of biology or physics. I preferred to take classes in something I could use conversationally with patients. In examining a patient, of course you use basic science, but you also are a person and talk to them about what they like to do. I knew I would be in a major metropolitan area and I really love art history, so it was a great merger.
What about research keeps you engaged?
The best approach for me is the best up-to-date on current strategies and standards of care. It’s important see what other people are doing and how to improve it. Staying current in research can keep you the most up to date for your treatment of patients. Patients are very well versed in their care. They are advocates for themselves, so it’s good to know what they’re reading so you can explain what they have seen.
Why ocular disease?
I interact with people across the whole spectrum of health care: rheumatologists, internists, oncologists. We send cultures to labs, so I speak with lab technicians or PhDs doing research on some bacteria we happened to send a sample of. It’s fascinating because it becomes a multifaceted approach which is where eye care is trending, and ODs are networking with primary-care doctors. But when you’re dealing with disease, your focus is to talk to other practitioners and get a holistic version of the person.
Previous Q&A: Shalu Pal, OD, FAAO—Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Why a hospital practice instead of private practice or industry?
The hospital where I work is nonprofit, so that is vital. I always wanted to make an impact on health care in a way that enabled me to see patients in all walks of life, whether they’re on Medicaid and uninsured or an Upper East Sider with a lot of insurance. I see patients from over the whole spectrum. Practitioners are salaried in the hospital, so there’s less incentive for fee-for-service. If you are in a private practice, you take home what you bring in. Being in a hospital allows me to focus on patient care. I don’t need to think about billing, marketing, or my schedule. We have departments that take care of that. I’m able to see my patients and then go home; the day-to-day things I don’t need to worry about. Working in a hospital, I work with other specialists: cornea, medical and surgical retina, neuro-ophthalmology, glaucoma. Being in a hospital allows me interaction with all those special branches.
What’s something your colleagues don’t know about you?
How much I like to cook and how much I like to cook for a long time. Those recipes that say 6+ hours of preparation or 3+ hours of marinating plus 12 hours in a cooker. I like to dive into those and mix my own spice concoction. I’m efficient in the office, so it’s an opposite hobby that’s something low and slow.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Hopefully with my optometry school debt paid off. [Laughs] I hope to make a large impact on non-profit health care and optometry/ophthalmology eye world. I’m seeing one patient at a time, and I’m talking to him about his insurance woes, medications that aren’t covered, and how long it took to see me. I listen to this day-in, day-out, and I’m thinking wouldn’t it be great if I could make larger decisions. What if there was a way I could call an insurance company and help make a decision that would help 100 patients or 1,000 patients. So, I hope my impact in 10 years is on making large brushstrokes and larger impact on health care.