Hometown: Greenwood, Indiana (Home of the Woodmen)
Family: My wife, Kiley and a one year old daughter, Mira. Otherwise, my mother, father, sister and brother all live in Indianapolis.
Hobbies: Watching sports (especially the Pacers and Colts), yard work (my wife and I won Yard of the Month in our old neighborhood in Indianapolis), outdoor activities such as hiking with our dogs, listening to all types of music.
BA from Creighton University, Omaha NE
MS from Indiana University School of Medicine, Indianapolis IN
MD from Indiana University School of Medicine, Indianapolis IN
PhD from Indiana University School of Medicine, Indianapolis IN
Transitional Year Residency – St Vincent Hospital, Indianapolis IN
Ophthalmology Residency – Eugene and Marilyn Glick Eye Institute/Indiana University School of Medicine, Indianapolis IN
Why did you become a doctor?
I knew from a very young age that I wanted to become a doctor. Before my mom retired, she was a medical technologist/microbiologist and worked in a laboratory in a hospital in Martinsville, Ind. When I was in fourth or fifth grade, she would take me to the hospital and show me how she analyzed blood samples which absolutely fascinated me. I had the opportunity to meet the pathologist and look in microscopes.
Following that, I did a fifth grade science fair project on cancer. I made a model of cancer cells using marshmallows, maraschino cherries and kool aid. The research that I did for that science fair project jump started my love for medicine. I ended up placing in that science fair (I think I got third).
As a senior in high school, I had the opportunity to take a class called Peer Facilitation. This class would pair high school students with elementary and/or middle school age students with various social or family stresses. Some children would be bullied at school, others would have a tough family life. One of my “peer buddies” was a middle school student in sixth grade who at the time had a sister that was battling a leukemia (she was actually a freshman or sophomore in high school). He was having a hard time adjusting to this very difficult situation so I would get to spend time with him on a weekly basis. Unfortunately during that school year, his sister was determined to be terminal and was placed in hospice at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis. My peer buddy called me one night (outside of our normal meeting time which was usually during the school day) and asked that I come to the hospital to be with him while he said his final goodbye to his sister. I felt so helpless and wanted to be able to offer him and his family more than what I could. This solidified my passion for medicine because I realized that I wanted to be able to offer people answers to questions that they may have. I so wish I could’ve helped that family more than I actually did. From that moment on, I was going to dedicate my life to becoming a doctor.
Why did you choose this particular specialty?
I didn’t choose ophthalmology until my fourth year in medical school. This is unusual because most of my other classmates had begun the residency application process and knew what specialty they were interested in. I had narrowed down my options to a surgical subspecialty because of the ability to use my hands to make an instantaneous difference in the management of a disease process. I also particularly enjoyed “traditional” clinic based medicine in that you can grow with your patients and see them year after year. I really enjoy being able to converse with patients and hear stories about their lives. I get to take care of a husband, wife and daughter all in the same setting. As everyone knows, our eyesight is critical in how we interact with the outside world. So being able to take out a cataract and give clarity back to a patient is sometimes as gratifying to me as it is to them.
Is it different than what you thought? How?
In a way yes. This may be a direct consequence of having poor exposure to ophthalmology in medical school. It is not one of the required courses so you don’t particularly get too much exposure unless you seek out. Also, as a medical student, you don’t particularly get to “scrub” any cases because everything is done under a microscope and there is not any room for a medical student.
Therefore, I didn’t realize the immense amount of technology that is ever changing in our field. From the phacoemulsification machines (cataracts) to the lasers for LASIK, the technological advances are mind blowing. I am so lucky that I am in a field that we get to use the latest and greatest pieces of equipment. Sometimes when I am doing cataract surgery, I feel like I am in a science fiction movie. It will be so interesting to see what the future holds for my career.
What is the biggest misconception about your field?
The biggest misconception is that ophthalmologists only give glasses all day long. Yes, I do prescribe glasses for the routine patients but there is so much more to ophthalmology than correction of refractive error with glasses or contacts. Sometimes ophthalmologists are the first to diagnose a retinal problem that can actually be a systemic disease (i.e. diabetes or sarcoidosis).
In fact, ophthalmologist work closely with many other subspecialists in the management of many of our patients. We interact and share patients with primary care doctors, endocrinologists, rheumatologists, otolaryngologists, dermatologists, neurologists, and even oncologists. I think there is sometimes a misconception that we don’t ever step foot into a hospital and that is not the case. Every now and then you will see us carrying our indirect headset around in a hospital ward because an eye exam can sometimes be the final piece to reveal a widespread disease.
What is the one thing you wish patients knew and/or understood about doctors?
I wish that my patients would understand that I learn as much from them as I think they learn from me. I think all doctors have a deep desire to continued learning and being challenged. Therefore, I feel it is important for patients to be just as engaged by asking questions about their diagnoses and treatment plans. In the end, they hold the key to their health not us.
Why did you make the decision to delay medical school in order to complete your PhD?
In all honesty, the decision was sort of made for me. Before starting medical school, I had enrolled in a master’s degree program in Cellular and Integrative Physiology. During that time, I had become interested in understanding a disease process (diabetes) at the ground level so I asked my advisor if there were any labs that were taking students. Luckily, my PhD mentor (Dr. Jeffrey Elmendorf) was a young investigator who studied the cellular and molecular mechanisms of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes who had just received funding and was looking for someone. I guess I met his criteria. Initially, I had mentioned to my mentor that I wanted to do research until I got into medical school. But then, after a few successful experiments, I began to love the work I was doing. Next thing I knew, I had two publications (one in which I was a first author) and I was applying for grants on my own. After I received my master’s degree, I had already been accepted into medical school. I along with my mentor were not ready for me to close the lab notebook and move onto clinical medicine. We had a discussion and we mutually came to the decision that the project I was working on was not complete and I should be the one to complete it (rather than leaving it for someone else in the lab). I also realized that I cherished the times at the white board with a cup of coffee in the mornings where every member of the lab would contribute ideas to various questions that arose from our experiments. I loved the critical thinking aspect of hardcore bench science research. Granted, there were more failed experiments than successful ones. But the scientific process had me hooked. So I decided to see my research project through and complete my PhD.
In the end, I gained a lot of tools that I still use from my time in the Elmendorf lab and obtaining my PhD. It taught me how to dissect a problem from square one. Additionally, Dr. Elmendorf was a professional in teaching his students how to effectively communicate whether it be presenting data as formal talks or writing a manuscript for publication. For that, I will always be indebted. If anyone is curious or wants to know more about the role of plasma membrane cholesterol and its effects on promoting insulin resistance, I would be happy to explain this to you in much greater detail.
What’s one thing your colleagues would be surprised to learn about you?
Seeing that my parents are from India and both of them came from meager backgrounds, I am the first and only doctor in my family. Of course with that distinction comes a lot of questions and “free” advice.
Also, I’m a three time state champion in the state of Indiana. I was in the marching band in high school. Our marching band was considered a powerhouse and during my time in the band, we won three state championships and finished second my senior year. At that time, I felt like I could do no better in life.
What’s the best advice you ever received? Who gave it to you?
“There is no substitute for hard work.” My father would often utter those words to me as I was growing up. He and my mother serve as a constant source of inspiration. They both came from India with a few dollars in their hands. They have worked harder in this one lifetime than I could in multiple lifetimes. Now, they have financial security and have the means to not only support me, my sister and brother growing up; but they also support their families in India. Seeing the “American Dream” in person, it has truly allowed me to see firsthand that life is not handed to you, you have to go out and take life yourself.
What is your motto?
This comes from a song that was written by Mumford and Sons. I listen to it before I head into the operating room in order to get my mind right. But I do believe that it is applicable as a good motto for me.
“Keep my eyes to serve and my hands to learn.”
For a surgeon, this should always be the case. There is always something that we can learn from every case that we perform or even every patient that we encounter.
Also, we as physicians are in the field of providing a service to our patients. Our focus and direction should always be on that. There are so many distractions on a daily basis in everyone’s life but I always want to make sure that my actions are directed towards to the good of my patients.
If you weren’t a doctor, what would you be?
I am not sure if there is anything else that I could imagine doing in life. For some reason, aviation fascinates me. So I guess I would have to say that I might have been an airline pilot if I wasn’t a doctor.
Who are your heroes in healthcare?
Quite honestly, I have been fortunate to have such amazing teachers to get me to the point I am today which is a young physician. For starters, Dr. Darrell WuDunn was my residency program director at Indiana University who has molded many different ophthalmologists and I am lucky to be one of them. Dr. Rudy Yung was a mentor both in the operating room teaching me how to efficiently and safely perform cataract surgery and in the clinic. I can still hear some of his teachings in my ear while I am operating. Dr. Louis Cantor and Dr. David Plager are two of the most innovative and cutting edge ophthalmologists that I have been around. They continuously push the envelope and will think outside the box. I admire their bravery and ingenuity. I am forever indebted to Dr. HAMALA for his patience, humor, and excellent surgical techniques.
There are too many ophthalmologists to name that have paved the path for me to practice today. There are so many legends that have contributed to the way modern ophthalmology is practiced that I can’t possibly name them all. I am constantly in awe of them.
What’s the last good book you read?
Since I have a one year old daughter at home, I primarily read books to her now. I would say that I have particularly enjoyed Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type, The Goodnight Book, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!,Olivia, and most recently we have enjoyed The Bugliest Bug.
Favorite daytime beverage?
That’s easy. Coffee. No sugar, no cream. When I did bench science, my labmates and I would constantly be making coffee to get through the day. I have since slowed down my coffee intake from about 1 pot a day to 2 cups a day.
Latest posts by Sally McMahon (see all)
- Hosparus Health raises $28 million in campaign - November 21, 2021
- Write a letter or email your legislator, help Kentucky nurses - November 21, 2021
- Health Enterprises Network hosts discussion on health equity - November 21, 2021