Let’s Get Personal

By JEFFREY S. EISENBERG, CORRESPONDING EDITOR

Ever since the age of 8, Mark Weiss, MD, of Tulsa, Oklahoma, has had a camera in his hands. Sixty years later, Dr. Weiss remains just as passionate about taking photographs, and he has established a reputation not only as a glaucoma specialist but as a photographer.

Photography, he believes, helps him see better. “I think that good photographers see things that other people don’t see, such as people’s expressions,” he says. “They see things differently than just looking at something.”

For Dr. Weiss, photography also provides a way to achieve a work-life balance. This article features Dr. Weiss and two other doctors whose favorite pastimes help them achieve this balance—one that may pay direct or indirect dividends to their practices.

A LIFE IN PICTURES

Dr. Weiss, a Philadelphia-area native, first came to Tulsa as part of his military service. For 2 years, he was a general practitioner at Claremore Indian Hospital, a part of the Indian Health Service. He moved to Chicago, where he completed an ophthalmology residency at the University of Chicago and a glaucoma fellowship at Presbyterian- St. Luke’s Hospital. He then returned to Tulsa, where he has been in private practice since 1976.

For the past 10 years, Dr. Weiss has also run a clinic at a homeless shelter. He has donated equipment, provides free eye examinations and glasses, and tries to help patients with ocular problems obtain further services. “It was a way to give back,” he says.

Although he has always enjoyed photography, Dr. Weiss began this pursuit more seriously some 25 years ago. After he returned to Tulsa, Dr. Weiss and a friend visited New Mexico as part of a photography class. New Mexico—with its scenic byways, national and state parks, various monuments, and dormant volcanoes and hot springs—is what Dr. Weiss describes as “just a wonderful magical place.” They spent their days taking photographs and their evenings developing them and critiquing each other’s shots.

Today, Dr. Weiss exhibits his photographs in his office, at a local art cinema, and most recently at a local synagogue’s exhibition. He has also posted them for viewing at www.glaucomadoc.com.

His subjects include landscapes, seascapes, and other natural settings, historic churches, and artistic shots. Dr. Weiss most enjoys photographing people, however. A particular favorite is that of an elderly patient sitting with her walker. Several of his subjects also come from the homeless shelter. He keeps a camera with him all the time, ready to shoot “something that looks interesting or someone who looks interesting.”

To Dr. Weiss, photography offers a sense of accomplishment outside the office. It also helps him develop a rapport with his patients who ask about his photos, especially if they see something familiar.

“I think everyone needs something they can do as an extension outside the office, especially people thinking of retiring,” he says, quickly adding that he has no plans to do so soon. “They should have something that is meaningful to them that they can do once they do retire. And, even before that, having something that is interesting outside of being a doctor makes me a better person.”

ON THE RUN

Bonnie An Henderson, MD, achieves balance by training for and competing in triathlons. This, she believes, helps her work better.

Dr. Henderson, 43, has been in practice since 1997. She is a partner at Ophthalmic Consultants of Boston and an assistant clinical professor of ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School. She and two colleagues at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary have developed a cognitive simulator to help train residents for cataract surgery. She is married and the mother of three.

Dr. Henderson has been running since she was in college. Some 3 years ago, as she cheered on a classmate from medical school in a triathlon, she decided that it would be fun to compete. She now runs in two or three triathlons herself each season, typically as one of about 300 competitors.

She continues to train during the winter months, usually doing some type of workout each day. She alternates among running, biking, kickboxing, muscle conditioning, and swimming laps at her gym’s indoor pool.

These workouts, Dr. Henderson says, give her:

  • Better time management skills. “Races are very time consuming because you always have to stay in reasonable shape,” she says. “But I find the lessons I learn of managing my time and energy are helpful not only for my career but also my personal life.”
  • More energy and focus while at work. “At times, when I’m out for a long run or bike ride, it’s a great time to think of the issues at work,” she says. “If I’m trying to come up with a different direction my research should go or am struggling with an article I’m writing, it’s great to be able to think creatively.”
  • Time to think. For example, Dr. Henderson often goes running when she needs to prepare a meeting agenda. “When I’m running, different ideas will form in my head, and I’m able to come up with a new approach,” she says. Besides running, Dr. Henderson is interested in culinary arts. “It’s very relaxing, but it’s also very creative,” she says.

Her advice for other doctors: make the time to pursue a hobby or exercise. “It will never seem like you have time, but you always do have the time,” she says. “It depends on what you make of it. People often accomplish the most when they are busiest. People wait for the perfect time to start pursuing a hobby and then realize life never slows down.”

Indeed, physical exercise leads to a longer, more vigorous career span, says practice management consultant John Pinto, the founder of J. Pinto & Associates Inc. One caveat, however: “Speaking as an eye care economist, I get concerned when surgeons swing too far to playtime—literally in the case of golf and tennis,” Mr. Pinto says. “The typical client who takes up sports like golf, which require large blocks of time, will see a measurable drop in practice income, even if they take referral sources out to the club.”

AUTHOR, AUTHOR

For years, Rob Abel Jr, MD, of Wilmington, Delaware, has made up stories. Initially, he made up fairy tales, “Abel’s Fables,” to get his three children, now adults, to sleep.

Dr. Abel still makes up stories, waking up at 5:00 AM each day so that he has more than 3 hours to write before he sees his first patient. He also incorporates storytelling and the education of patients into one.

Dr. Abel self-published a murder mystery, Lethal Hindsight (Xlibris Corp.), in March 2010. In the book, a rogue German industrialist who is unhappy with that country’s subsidiary role in Europe seeks to make changes after receiving a stolen North Korean formula. Suddenly, there is an increase in the development of cataracts in the Metropolitan DC area and in Bonn, Germany. Enter Lauren Chandler, ophthalmic surgeon and researcher, to investigate. “The audience will learn a lot about ophthalmology and eye care in the process,” Dr. Abel says.

Dr. Abel has written about 39 chapters of a sequel, Last Sighting, and is developing an idea for a third murder mystery. In Last Sighting, Dr. Chandler’s research focuses on what area of the brain individuals actually use to see. “It is thought to be the occipital lobe, but that is not the case,” Dr. Abel says. “I think it will be a surprise to most eye physicians. Then, her research device will be appropriated by the National Security Agency to identify killers by revealing the last image that their victims saw.”

Dr. Abel has also written and published Lumi’s Book of Eyes (Wasteland Press, 2010) for children aged 3 to 6. Lumi, a graphic character, shows children the eyes of various animals and explains how they help the animal adapt to its environment. A take-home message at the end is that children have eyes, it is okay to wear glasses, and every child needs to have an eye examination by age 5.

Soon to be released is Lumi’s Book of Teeth, in which Lumi shows children the teeth of various animals and explains that even they can get cavities. He will stress the importance of brushing one’s teeth and making annual visits to the dentist.

“I’ve always had ideas, and then when I get something I think is unique and can be a vehicle for information, I felt compelled to do it,” Dr. Abel says. “But, I think the more important direction will be with Lumi, because he can serve as a child’s health advocate.”

Dr. Abel is working on a third edition of his book, The Eye Care Revolution: Prevent and Reverse Common Vision Problems (Kensington Publishing Corp., 1999, 2004). In it, he will discuss the latest diagnostic and therapeutic options for various ocular diseases. This, of course, will include artificial vision, gene therapy, nanotechnology, and stem cell research.

Dr. Abel believes that the future of medicine and, more specifically eye care, lies in combining complementary and preventive therapies with traditional options, such as cataract surgery. “And I realized that you can provide the message more successfully in fiction and nonfiction options,” he says. “So, Lumi is going to be talking about prevention to kids, and Lauren Chandler is going to be talking about prevention and eye research for adults. In Lethal Hindsight, Lauren’s research and her recommendations revolve around ways to prevent the cataract epidemic, whereas her colleagues are delighted to see their surgical volume increase.”

Dr. Abel exercises regularly, eats a balanced diet, and has created two vitamins: Able Eyes and Right for the Macula (both from Carlson Laboratories). As a result, he says, he has more energy than one might expect at age 67.

WORK-LIFE BALANCE

A hobby represents an important way to achieve work-life balance, which Mr. Pinto says is essential. However, unlike Drs. Weiss and Abel, he also finds that doctors, especially those aged 50 and older, often do not follow his advice to take up a hobby. One reason: the lack of free time during the early years of training, building a practice, and starting a family.

“By the time one is professionally well established, a life pattern biased toward 60-hour work weeks and a high income is already set, even for eye care providers in their 60s and 70s who are financially well over their ‘finish line,’” he says. “Perhaps this is not all that surprising given the significant social, intellectual, and financial rewards of medicine.”

Psychologist and health care consultant Craig N. Piso often sees this pattern among his clients, many of them physicians. “What often happens is work-life balance becomes obscured during the pursuit of future success, sacrificing the present when it takes hold of us,” he says. By that point, they have reached what some would consider addictive behavior, working longer hours, including weekends.

Oftentimes, Dr. Piso is called into practices when a doctor becomes so driven that it creates tension in the practice or interferes with decision making, which leads to staff turnover or lowers staff morale. “When someone says, ‘I’ve created this lifestyle where I have to work, so there is just no time,’ you know they’re deeply entrenched,” Dr. Piso says. “That should signal to them more that they need to take stock of their work-life balance.”

By contrast, the happiest physicians he sees have achieved a work-life balance. For that to occur, some sort of resolution needs to take place, Dr. Piso says. One such resolution, for example, is for the doctor to take charge and assume final responsibility for his or her own schedule. Another is to realize that joy comes from the inside out and that seeking joy, such as going on a humanitarian trip or spending more time with family, strengthens and centers a person, even if it means sacrificing some income. Sound like a pretty good picture?

Rob Abel Jr, MD, may be reached at (302) 479-3937; dra@delawareeyes.com.

Bonnie An Henderson, MD, may be reached at (617) 723-2015; bahenderson@eyeboston.com.

John Pinto may be reached at (619) 223-2233; pintoinc@aol.com.

Craig N. Piso, PhD, may be reached at (570) 239-3114; info@pisoandassociates.com.

Mark Weiss, MD, may be reached at (918) 742-2428; mweiss@eyeinst.com.