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Career Advice for Young Ophthalmologists

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Dr. Purnima Patel (left) and Dr. Andrea Tooley (right)

Speakers: Purnima Patel, MD, Emory University and Andrea Tooley, MD, Mayo Clinic

Interview: Career Advice for Young Ophthalmologists

AT: I’m here with Dr. Purnima Patel. She is the chairwoman of the American Academy of Ophthalmology Young Ophthalmologist Committee. She is a medical retina and uveitis specialist at Emory. And she is an incredible woman in medicine.

So Dr. Patel, can you tell us, how did you get involved with leadership? How did you start building your career so early?

PP: Well, thanks so much, Andrea, for having me. It’s a long, circuitous route. But I think that it’s just really showing up and meeting people and interacting with them that gave me a lot of opportunities early in my career. And I was very fortunate to have that, a lot of great mentorship.

AT: And people say kind of show up and get opportunities. But how do you even do that? As a resident, how do you find these opportunities?

PP: Absolutely. I think in the beginning as a resident or a young physician, it’s important just to say yes to everything. And then in the end, when your schedule starts filling up, you’ll prioritize. And some things will fall off. And at that point, you’ll give others an opportunity. And I think that’s important that you got an opportunity. It’s important to share that opportunity with others, so that when you’re moving on to something else, you’ve made sure that another young promising physician has that available to them.

AT: Yes, absolutely. And when you’re early in your career and you’re building your career, what advice do you have to us kind of starting off? Would we want to get involved?

PP: I will say that it’s hard. And it’s hard for everybody. And it will be hard for you and you guys out there.

But there’s three things I think that are really important to prioritize. One in the beginning is start goal setting. And that can be very difficult, but at least try it. And you can do short-term goals, like one month, three months, six months from now, before you go to the big five to 10 years from now, this is where I want to be.

The other thing is that you need a team. You can’t do this by yourself. You need a team of mentors and sponsors. Sponsors are people that actively will seek opportunities out for you and help you shape your career.

And third is really creating these opportunities that we talked about earlier by showing up to places, asking, having conversations with people, asking, how did you get to where you are? I think that’s a really important question. And we need a lot of input from lots of different people. So it’s important ask that question. And then you’ll shape your own career based on the things that you relate to and you feel like that works with me and my lifestyle.

Because as we’re building our careers, we’re also building our life. And you have to do it at the same time. And it’s a balancing act. And again, it’s tough for everybody. And just know that and seek help from a lot of different sources.

AT: Incredible advice. So as we’re starting our early career, we’re going to set goals for our career in the future, long-term and short-term. We’re going to find mentors and sponsors. And that’s a new term for me, sponsors. I love that. And then we’re going to show up, say yes to opportunities, and let it kind of shape our career.

PP: Absolutely.

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