Women in Retina: ASRS 2018 Recap

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The American Society of Retina Specialist (ASRS) Annual Meeting took place in Vancouver, British Columbia last month. As part of a movement to promote the success of the growing number of women in the retina field, a session entitled “Women in Retina: How to Succeed in Different Practice Environments, From Academia to Private Practice,” was led by Dr. Audina Berrocal, Professor of Ophthalmology at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute.

Audina M. Berrocal, MD: From Fellow to Professor as an XX: Top 10 Tips

Dr. Berrocal kicked off the session by sharing a list of pearls she has learned on her career journey with the audience made up of both men and women. 1. Find one’s niche and pursue it with determination, 2. Attend important meetings and present research on the podium as many women present posters only, 3. Publish as much as possible, 4. Be inclusive in terms of research projects, 5. Take care of one’s clinic and patients, 6. Be available to others whenever possible, 7. Pursue roles on hospital and university committee, 8. Care for your support staff, 9. Be courteous, but firm, in the OR, and lastly, find happiness in everything you do.

Ashvini Reddy, MD & Alice Zhang, MD: Preferences and Trends of Women in Retina

While gender-based earning disparities exist across many medical specialties, there is data to suggest that they may be worse in ophthalmology. For example, mean federal NIH research awards are significantly higher for men than women ($418,605 vs. $353,170). The basis for income disparity has been particularly difficult to study. To better understand if practice patterns and practice environments were different between males and females, the results of a preliminary analysis of the 2016 ASRS Preferences and Trends survey were presented by Drs. Ashvini Reddy and Alice Zhang, Assistant Professor at Johns Hopkins University and University of North Carolina, respectively. The available data showed that men are more likely to be in group private retina practice and women are more likely to work in academic centers. Men were also more likely to be performing retina surgery than women, who were more likely to be medical retina specialists. More men than women reported being in practice for 25 years or more.

Geeta Lalwani, MD, MBA: Starting Your Own Practice: You Can Have It All and Here is How to Get It!

Dr. Lalwani discussed her experience forming her now-thriving practice, Rocky Mountain Retina Associates in Boulder, CO. She stated that the foundation of any practice is medical knowledge, and that one can build a solid private clinic with determination and by paying careful attention to the choice of electronic medical record system, office equipment, and financial commitments. Dr. Lalwani feels that practice location and an understanding of patient demographics were critical to her success. She recommended choosing an office setting with room for growth, and explained how sharing costs and office space with another provider could boost revenue. She also stresses that one of the keys to her success has been availability and outreach to other providers within her community.

Stephanie Vanderveldt, MD: The Selling of Your Practice: Myths and Reality

Dr. Vanderveldt, a partner at Georgia Retina, described her experience uniting with the private equity group EyeSouth Partners. This is a very important topic as the number of ophthalmology practices aligned with private equity has grown in recent years. She described common myths related to this topic, such as that these alliances were only favorable to older physicians and that such a transition would be associated with a loss of autonomy. However, she explained that this has not been her experience. Dr. Vanderveldt emphasized that since the union has occurred, new partners were actually on a faster track to buy-in and that being part of a larger network allowed for new leadership opportunities.

Christina Y. Weng, MD, MBA: How to Navigate Unpredictable Changes

Dr. Weng, Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology at Baylor College of Medicine, started off with a narrative of her early career journey, describing some of the unexpected challenges she encountered including the departure of two of her senior faculty mentors. Dr. Weng shared three lessons she learned from her experience: 1) Ask for help when necessary. 2) Turn obstacles into opportunities. Although Dr. Weng did not expect to step into the role of fellowship program director so early in her career, she has embraced her new role and used it as a chance to strengthen and improve the program. 3) Remember that every cloud has a silver lining. Dr. Weng reminded the audience that things eventually get better and that it is important to never lose sight of the person and physician you want to be in spite of external stressors.

Aleksandra Rachitskaya, MD: Self-Help for Young Women in Retina

Dr. Rachitskaya, Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology at Cole Eye Institute, described her experiences as one of the few females amongst her retina colleagues throughout her training and even in her current position. She first spoke about the importance of mentorship for personal and professional growth. She then segued into a discussion of the “imposter syndrome” in which females may credit their achievements to luck rather than skill, or may feel that they do not deserve what they have. Dr. Rachitskaya encourages women to shed this mentality as it devalues their real worth. Lastly, she discussed how critical it is for women to seek leadership roles and involve themselves with initiatives that they truly believe can make a difference.

Lisa Olmos de Koo, MD, MBA: How to Effectively Use Your MBA in Academic Retina

Dr. Olmos de Koo, Associate Professor of Ophthalmology at University of Washington, guided the audience through a mini-course of business school. Dr. Olmos de Koo found the Communications courses in her Master of Business Administration curriculum to be incredibly helpful. For those looking to enhance their public speaking skills, she recommends joining Toastmasters International. Next, she referred to both her economics and finance courses, and she advised people to think about everything in terms of opportunity cost in order to best decide how to allocate time and resources. Dr. Olmos de Koo then moved the conversation to focus on marketing. She recommended that participants market not just their practices, but also themselves as providers, teachers, and researchers. Lastly, she concluded by discussing strategy. She recommended one of her favorite books, “Getting to Yes” by Roger Fisher and William Ury, which discusses how to negotiate in such a way that both parties benefit.

By addressing diverse and broad topics that are applicable to all retina specialists, but integrating issues specific to women in retina, we sincerely hope that the audience found the talks helpful and engaging and that this panel represents the first of many more like it.

Dr. Christina Y. Weng is an assistant professor of Ophthalmology and the Fellowship Program Director in the Department of Ophthalmology, Division of Vitreoretinal Diseases & Surgery at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas.

Ashvini K. Reddy, M.D., is an assistant professor of Ophthalmology at the Dean McGee Eye Institute in Oklahoma City.

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