I will be Leonardo and much more

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this blog are those of their respective contributors and do not represent the opinions of Ophthalmology time® or MJH Life Sciences®

A world-renowned cataract surgeon recently told me, “Jim Carrey and Leonardo DiCaprio are both actors, but they don’t try out the same roles; likewise, you don’t have to do what I do. I am Jim Carrey, you are Leonardo.

In a profession that values ​​super sub-specialization, combined with a society that locks physicians into corners, I often felt like I didn’t fit a job title with my varied passions and intersecting interests.

“It’s hard to be what you can’t see.” While this phrase often refers to racial and gender representation, I also believe it extends to career opportunities. If you’ve never been exposed to careers beyond the 9-5 clinic model, it’s hard to see how medicine can accommodate doctors of varying talents. You may come to believe that you are not capable of performing various roles because they are not part of your vocabulary of possibilities.

My parents are immigrants from India (I can probably stop here for any South Asian descendants), and while there were expectations for strong academics, we were told that you were defined by your career and that you have only chosen one. So if you had a passion for art, music, or writing, it was an enjoyable hobby that could be pursued by your doctor’s income, but it always lay dormant. And while I grew up with some of those labels, my parents instilled in us the belief that I could accomplish anything with determination and hard work.

As a young child, I watched my parents exemplify the value of service to others through their generosity in helping people local and abroad. I helped gather medical supplies for war-torn refugees and visited mobile clinics in farming villages in India. I grew up understanding the impact of philanthropy and how it could be used for larger institutional programs.

After my residency, I learned about public health advocacy programs focused on health equity. I learned to use my professional status to advocate for policies that helped both uninsured and underinsured members of our local communities. After several years of practice, I was able to understand how my surgical skills could help in relief camps in underserved countries. This turned into a passion to give back in terms of not only cataract camps, but also sustainable skills transfer opportunities and educational programs with local NGOs.

Research and teaching were a natural consequence of my work in global health. As physicians, the adage “see one, teach one, do one” often comes full circle in academic medicine where we not only teach residents but also medical students and undergraduates. It is a natural step for physicians to be on the faculty of local medical schools or hold an academic position.

My research interests have expanded to include biopharmaceutical and medical device development. Working to run clinical trials has been an incredible opportunity to advance science and reach thousands of lives, instead of one patient every 15 minutes. I see the full range of drugs and devices, from design to safety and finally in my operating room.

I used to hide some of my many interests, believing them to be irrelevant to patient care, or labeling them “just my volunteer work”. As those around me compared numbers of cataract cases, I meticulously recorded details of supplies needed for upcoming medical relief camps. While some were taking too long for patients during their lunch hour, I was on advocacy calls with senators trying to push for access to health care and advocating for the expansion of the food program to alleviate the food insecurity. I settled into my interests, and instead of putting them on the back burner or treating them as a side job, I combined them to build my portfolio career.

The Leonardo reference originally referred to a specific actor, but it made me think of Leonardo da Vinci. Despite his fame and artistic achievements, he embodied “the Renaissance man” with an exploration of anatomy, zoology, geology, optics and hydrodynamics. In the East, one of the most famous multi-talented physicians was Ibn Sina (Avicenna). In addition to medicine, his writings included philosophy, astronomy, geography, geology, psychology, logic, mathematics, physics, and poetry.

These renaissance ideals celebrated people with multiple talents or areas of knowledge. Yet somehow modern society has labeled those of us with varying passions and talents as unfocused or undedicated, when in fact the opposite is true. . It’s because we’re so dedicated to our values ​​that we focus our talents to make sure we use everything our skills to have an impact.

I say all this to emphasize that we don’t have to be defined by the expectations of others. If I want to have a practice 6 days a week, great, go for it. If, on the other hand, I want to spend my time in humanitarian work and non-profit organizations and only work 3 days, that is also a valid option. Or, if I want to reach thousands of patients and oversee cutting-edge global clinical trials and see patients and operate a few days a week, fantastic.

I can be a surgeon, educator, researcher, writer and philanthropist. We can all be Leonardos, and so much more.

Zaiba Malik, MD, is a board-certified ophthalmologist specializing in comprehensive, cataract, and global ophthalmology. Dr. Malik has been a Clinical Assistant Professor in the Department of Surgery at Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine since 2008. She can be contacted at: [email protected]

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