Getting established in ophthalmology practice
can be a challenge for any early-career doctor, but for women—who still make up less than 40% of all ophthalmologists—getting their careers off on the right foot might seem particularly daunting.
Tips for early-career women ophthalmologists
Looking back at the start of my own career 5 years ago, I remember how the support and advice I received from other women was so valuable in helping me to create a strong foundation for my practice and build my confidence from the earliest days. Now that I’m well established in my career, I try to be intentional about passing along key learnings and good advice to other women who are just entering the field.
I recently had the good fortune of joining a couple of my EyeCare Partners
colleagues, Linda Greff, MD, and Jessica Duddleston, MD, for a discussion about building a strong career in ophthalmology and the most valuable advice for early-career women ophthalmologists.
While the perspectives they shared were as varied as their experiences—Dr. Greff has been in practice at Cincinnati Eye Institute for more than 30 years and Dr. Duddleston just began practice last year at Alabama Vision Center in Birmingham—I believe their insights may be useful to women ophthalmologists at all levels, not just those who are at the beginning of their careers.
Here are some of the key takeaways from our discussion.
1. A strong network can be an essential resource.
Networking is often misconstrued as something people only need to do when they are searching for a job. In reality, a professional network is a tool that can be valuable at every stage of your career. A strong network can provide trusted counsel and feedback—particularly for those in small practices who may have a limited circle of colleagues.
“Networking can be helpful because you don’t always need to reinvent the wheel,” said Dr. Greff. “Your network can be an important source for new ideas and creative solutions.” For those who are new to practice, national organizations such as Women in Ophthalmology
and events such as the Women in Medicine Summit
can serve as great resources for making new contacts and expanding your network.
Dr. Greff, who was formerly the President of the Cincinnati Society of Ophthalmology, also recommends joining committees, whether they be in your practice or through regional or national organizations, as a way to continue learning and building new connections.
While networking with other ophthalmologists can have clear benefits, there is also value in having a diverse network that spans beyond the eyecare field. Connecting with colleagues who have different professional backgrounds can help you to broaden your thinking and see situations from new perspectives.
Networking outside of your specialty can also form beneficial relationships for you and your patients (thank you, infectious disease colleague for helping with that Lyme uveitis patient!
). Mentorship delivers benefits at all career stages.
2. Understand the value of mentorship.
Like networking, the value of mentorship
is also not always well understood, as it is often mistakenly seen as a tool only for those at the beginning of their careers. In fact, mentors—like a strong network—can be valuable throughout a career.
When I was a medical student and a resident, I was focused on getting to the next step, but now I’m thinking about what I want to accomplish in my career and what doors may be open to me in the future. As a result, I have sought out both men and women mentors with a diverse range of experience, backgrounds, and practice settings.
For women starting their ophthalmology careers, Dr. Duddleston suggests that mentor relationships don’t have to be extremely formal. She encourages early-career doctors to reach out to “people who inspire you or those who you are interested in emulating in some way” and ask to connect. In her experience, most doctors are more than willing to share their experiences and are just waiting to be asked.
Another misconception is that mentor relationships
need to match an older, more experienced person with a younger, less experienced mentee. Dr. Greff said mentorship is about sharing knowledge and perspective, which can come from people of all levels—and generally creates a “win-win situation” for both mentees and mentors.
“As we become mentors, we learn as much from those we are mentoring as they learn from us—both personally and professionally,” she commented.
3. Embrace opportunities: Just say “yes.”
One key piece of advice that I regularly share with early-career ophthalmologists is to say “yes” to opportunities when they come along
, even if they push you out of your comfort zone. Ophthalmology is a small community, and you never know what doors might be opened through new experiences.
In 2019, I was encouraged to register for the Millennial Eye LIVE conference that was taking place in a nearby city. I did not know anyone else attending but decided to take a day trip down to check it out. I had no idea what the conference was all about, but I ended up meeting a number of other physicians and industry partners that I have continued cultivating relationships with to this day. Saying “yes” to this unknown opportunity helped open many doors to where I am now in my career.
“Embracing opportunity may also mean finding ways to give back to the field of ophthalmology through service and eyecare-focused mission work
,” said Dr. Duddleston.
4. Bring your true self to the profession.
All of the women in our discussion agreed that one of the most important pieces of advice for any ophthalmologist, but especially for women, is to bring your authentic self to work.
“As women, we have a very unique perspective we bring to the table. We can listen, communicate, and problem-solve in ways that are different from our male colleagues. We should embrace and be confident in our abilities and understand how these qualities benefit our patients and our practices,” said Dr. Greff.
“In short, be who you want to be.”
to listen to the full podcast discussion between Drs. Early, Greff, and Duddleston.
Editorial note: Alison D. Early, MD, practices medical and surgical comprehensive ophthalmology, including management of cataracts, glaucoma, diabetes, and macular degeneration, at the Cincinnati Eye Institute, an EyeCare Partners practice.