Ophthalmology Business

JUNE 2011

Ophthalmology Business is focused on business topics relevant to the entrepreneurial ophthalmologist. It offers editorial, opinion, and practical tips for physicians running an ophthalmic practice. It is a companion publication of EyeWorld.

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June 2011 • Ophthalmology Business 23 and having abided by the "10,000- Hour Rule," a notion spearheaded by Malcolm Gladwell in the book Outliers, which claims that success comes after practicing a task for somewhere around 10,000 hours. "When I was a boy, my father told me that you always have to have a plan in life, and it should be a series of 5-year plans," Dr. Roberts said. "Not that plans don't change. Plans always change. But you have to have a plan and follow that plan." Dr. Roberts started his first 5- year plan in college. How many does he have in his archives? "With revisions, at least 10," Dr. Roberts said. "I have [a current] one now. Just because you're further along in your career doesn't mean that you need it any less." Somewhere among his 10,000 hours, Dr. Roberts began swapping a clinical life for a business one, con- sulting for a series of companies that by the year 2000, took up 50% of his time. In 2003, he became a board member of Alimera Sciences (Alpharetta, Ga.), whose products sold to Bausch & Lomb in 2007. The next year was his last in clinical practice, committing to full-time consultations with pharmaceutical companies, private equity compa- nies, and venture capital firms—that is, until Bausch & Lomb came knocking. "[Bausch & Lomb is] one of the iconic brands in eyecare," Dr. Roberts said. "They wanted me to bring the voice of the customer to the highest decision level within the company. I report directly to the CEO and bring clinical experience to the executive leadership team." Is Dr. Roberts comfortable about giving up his reputation as a doctor? "That's an emotional thing you have to get past," Dr. Roberts said. "Once I got past that, for me it was the excitement of recreating myself, of learning something totally new, starting at the lowest level and work- ing my way up in terms of knowl- edge and position, and enjoying the climb." But he sees pros and cons of doing so. Professionally and finan- cially, he was doing very well in clin- ical practice. It was uncertain whether his business acumen would be as good as his ophthalmic profi- ciency. "There are very few opportuni- ties in business that are as financially lucrative and professionally reward- ing as being a doctor," Dr. Roberts said. "[If things didn't work out], could I live with that level of disap- pointment when I had for a number of years been successful as a doctor?" He was willing to take the risk, and so far, seems content with his current success. An administrative anomaly Dr. Varga has experienced a different kind of success: doing what he loves on a national level instead of being a small-town doctor. "I did my clinical career in active duty [in the Navy]," said Dr. Varga. "When it was time to leave the military after 20 years … there weren't that many jobs out there for ophthalmologists. The ones that were available were in rural or small metropolitan areas." Dr. Varga wasn't content with that and realized he had other options beyond the medical profes- sion. "It started gradually, but I had some administrative roles fairly early in my career," Dr. Varga said. His involvement was in patient safety quality improvement, and he decid- ed to take that—along with skills in information technology—to another level. "The senior military command asked me to take a Pentagon-level job," Dr. Varga said. It was perfect except that when he started, his clinical responsibilities seemed like they wouldn't take no for an answer. Despite his new administrative life, he continued to serve as a Red Cross volunteer. "Curiously, one of the days I was at the Pentagon clinic was two days after 9/11," Dr. Varga said. "You can imagine what that was like." Despite the reminder of his importance as a doctor, Dr. Varga did not reverse his new career choice. "A lot of people ask, 'Don't you miss taking care of patients?'" Dr. Varga said. "If I see 30 to 40 patients a day, I can do good things for 30 to 40 patients. When I am in an admin- istrative role, I can influence policy that helps tens of thousands, hun- dreds of thousands, or millions of patients a day." Benefits of not being a practic- ing ophthalmologist include a nor- mal "40ish" hour workweek and not having to deal with malpractice issues. "I have to say, I don't miss taking care of patients," Dr. Varga said. Today, Dr. Varga is president of Falls Church, Va.-based JHV Consulting, doing jobs mostly for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. He has, for instance, worked with the Department to implement electronic medical records (EMR) technology specific to ophthalmology. "I don't run into too many ophthalmologists in information technology," Dr. Varga conceded. "My guess is you might be able to count them on one hand." Editors' note: Drs. Roberts and Varga have no financial interests related to their comments. Contact information Roberts: 585-338-6633, calvin.w.roberts@bausch.com Varga: 703-283-1500, john@varga.org

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