The Biggest Mistake in Ophthalmology that I’ve made in the past 20 years!

From Like you, I love cataract surgery, but there’s more to life than just ophthalmology.

Finding Balance in Ophthalmology

Early in my career I received some sage advice from Professor Brad Straatsma MD: Emulate your mentors initially but then develop your own judgment and style. My mentors provided many pearls like this over the past two decades, but there was one bit of guidance that I did not appreciate initially, but I finally understood a decade later: There is more to life than ophthalmology, and finding balance in life is much tougher than it sounds. I thought a lot about this over the years, but it really hit home recently when another mentor, Professor Roger Steinert MD, passed away, decades too early.

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As a resident 20 years ago, I looked forward to receiving trade magazines such as Ocular Surgery News more than the peer-reviewed journals because I wanted to learn about what surgeons were doing in practice now. I wanted to try their surgical techniques, use their products and learn from their teachings. These fellow ophthalmologists were seen as the key opinion leaders; companies wanted to consult with them, and other surgeons wanted to absorb knowledge from them. With my love of teaching, I decided that I wanted to be behind the podium, sharing my experiences with colleagues across the U.S. and abroad.

I put my heart into my lectures, spending countless nights editing surgical videos, making PowerPoint slides and writing content. And then I started taking trips across the globe, doing live surgery events at more than a dozen major meetings and lecturing in more than 50 countries. I had achieved the highest frequent flier status on multiple airlines and VIP status with hotel chains.

Then my mentor’s advice hit me: I had no balance in my life. I was sacrificing other aspects of my life in order to be a key opinion leader and industry consultant. The highest hotel VIP status came after spending more than 60 nights in a single year in their rooms. The elite airline status meant that I sat on a plane more than 100 times in a single year.

The biggest mistake in ophthalmology in the past 20 years is: having no balance in my life. 

Spending time with my family and friends is so much more important than traveling to yet another meeting or doing additional consulting work with industry. I still enjoy giving talks and working on new projects in ophthalmology, but now I am far more selective. A few years ago, I resigned my positions from the advisory and planning boards of major meetings, declined most invitations to speak and instead started planning family trips. Better late than never.

We are all passionate about ophthalmology. It is an amazing field where we have the ability to restore vision to patients, work with a constant pipeline of new technologies and enjoy the challenge of perfecting our surgical techniques. But ophthalmology must be balanced with home life, friends and other interests. The business of ophthalmology is a large force that drives the many meetings and journals, and there is always an opportunity for an energetic and hard-working doctor to become a key opinion leader. But be warned that this comes at the expense of being away from your practice and your family for many weeks or months out of the year. The highest-volume ophthalmic surgeons cannot do that, so those at the podium tend to sacrifice surgical volume in order to spend time behind the microphone.

I find that I usually juggle four primary interests:

  • spending time with family and friends
  • treating patients in the clinic and surgery center
  • teaching my ophthalmology residents and doctors at meetings
  • and working on projects both in ophthalmology and outside of it

Of these, I most enjoy spending time with family, and I realize how limited that opportunity is. With one child in college and another almost there, I am so happy that I spent so much time with them and canceled trips to ophthalmology meetings. As my mentor said, “Time is your most valuable asset because you can never make more of it.”

I apply this maxim to my practice as well: I split my time between my private clinic and teaching the residents at a large university-affiliated county hospital. Doing charity cases with residents is not as financially beneficial as building a larger private practice, but it is more fulfilling and enjoyable and that makes it absolutely worth it.

As my children establish their own lives as adults, I will likely return to the podium at more ophthalmology meetings, but this time in moderation. Now I realize that having high airline and hotel status is not a badge of honor; rather, it is a sign of an imbalanced life.

Take the time to reflect, ponder, and decide what is the right balance for your life.


  1. from Jeff Maltzman via his post on FaceBook:

    Another great post, Uday, and quite sage advice. Many physicians have difficulty finding that balance. We’re all type-A, driven people who want to succeed at the highest level professionally and, whether we like to admit it or not, most of us are quite competitive, often feeling the need to “keep up with the Joneses” in terms of our achievements. And that’s great- we should desire to learn as much as we can and function at the highest level in our field, offering the very best care possible to our patients. However, that same desire to be the best and do the most also contributes to high rates of physician depression, discontentment, burnout, and strained family relationships.

    Balance is tough, but both doable and necessary. Every physician needs to also make time for family and for self. On the self-side, finding an avocation about which one is truly passionate goes a long way. About 10 years ago, feeling tired and frustrated, I rediscovered landscape and nature photography, the pursuit of which has had such an overwhelmingly positive impact on my life, and the lives of my family.

    So, I encourage all physicians to find something you love and to put as much energy into it as you do in your professional life. The payoff is huge.

  2. Dr Uday better late than never!
    For each one of us what you have stated holds true,so we need to keep on striving to find the right balance on a tight rope walk.
    It may be difficult initially but family shlould come first and foremost before we realise that there are only regrets left to live with!
    Introspedtion is the need of the hour.

  3. Nice words of wisdom. Agree 100%. Each person has to define what balance means to them.

  4. Dear Dr Devgan,
    What you have written is 100%true.It is always better late than never.One must spend quality time with near and dear ones.We don’t know how much time we are left with,it is better to utilize it in a way we want.Thanks for enlightening many of us.

  5. Absolutely well said. Time is a commodity and no amount of money or fame can buy it. Maintaining balance is quiet tough when one is running fast.

  6. Dear Dr Uday, agreed with your statement. Now a days life is so fast that we couldn’t get time for ourselves. One must give atleast a few minutes in day to analyse himself. But I am sorry to say that we give this thought only when limit is crossed.

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