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The Road We Must Travel

By David W. Parke, MD

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This article originally appeared in the Winter 2008 issue of Scope.

At the 2007 Annual Meeting there was a symposium entitled The Senior Ophthalmologist:Transitioning to Retirement which was sponsored by the Academy’s Committee on Aging, the American Geriatric Society, the John A. Hartford Foundation, and the Academy Seniors. The presenters talked about preparing for retirement carefully and over a period of time; of choices to be made; and of personal experiences that made the transition purposeful and satisfying. At some time along life’s road, like it or not, we must face the fact that physical, and even mental limitations have to be addressed while maintaining a positive presence in practice during the transition.

It was emphasized that we can make our older years a time of physical vigor, mental alertness, and continued involvement in meaningful activity, paid or pro bono. We can maintain and pursue our involvement with others. Genes are important, but diet, exercise, and life style are important, and there are choices we can make as time goes by.

In future issues of SCOPE we plan to present the ideas of those who participated in the symposium. Although as individuals they looked at the transition to retirement and the state of being retired in different, but positive ways, each provided a look at this rite of passage and ways through which we can be useful and productive. We can still make qualitative and quantitative differences in the lives of others and in our own lives.

I gave pause to reflect on my own choices as the years passed. When I was chief of the medical staff of a 285 bed hospital for twelve years, while still actively practicing ophthalmology, I was faced with numerous problems. None was more difficult than having to confront the issue of curtailing or withdrawing hospital privileges of older physicians who failed to recognize that problems of aging were interfering with their abilities. Before confronting the physicians, I informed their families of our concerns, and, thankfully, all appreciated my approach and admitted that they, too, were aware that their spouse/parent was struggling. These sessions were not easy for families or for me. Therefore, in my forties I resolved that at age 65 I would stop doing surgery, even if I were still capable. I never wanted my family or peers to be subjected to making the choice for me.

The day before my 65th birthday I did six surgical procedures. That evening I told my partners that I had done my last surgery, but would stay on, if they wished, doing just medical ophthalmology. Although I had mentioned my intentions several times previously, they protested my decision, but chose to respect it. I was asked to stay on in the office. At that point I knew that even office practice would have to cease at some time.

The next five years were involved with being chairman of the Academy’s Committee on State Affairs. This required numerous meetings, long phone conversations and considerable traveling. Ophthalmology was just awakening to the fact that legislative scope of practice issues were a true threat to our profession. Thus, my time in the office was curtailed and I was given an opportunity to gradually refer long-time patients to my partners. About a year later I formally retired. My partners were kind to allow me to see “special patients and friends” in the office as I wished.

When my Academy appointment ended, I thought that golf, hunting and fishing, and travel would satisfy my lifestyle. It wasn’t long before I felt the need to be involved in patient care. An article on low vision rehabilitation caught my eye, so I enrolled in a short course at the Lighthouse for the Blind in New York, under the tutelage of Eleanor Faye, MD, the first lady of low vision rehabilitation. With much reading on the subject, and some trial and error, I have spent the last 13 years as Director of Low Vision Rehabilitation at the Yale Eye Center and at a huge Masonic Healthcare Center.

Four half days a week with patients who desperately need help with activities of daily living due to visual impairment is tremendously satisfying. Interaction with ophthalmology residents at Yale is stimulating and promotes trying to keep abreast of new developments in our profession. This opportunity makes the recent reshaping of the Oath of Hippocrates especially meaningful to me: “I will … gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.”

Can there be anything better?

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