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Young Ophthalmologists
One to One: Randy Johnston, MD
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One in a long line of physicians, he had no problem with the medicine part but had no plans to continue the family tradition of being an Eye M.D. In this interview, the Academy's 2010 president Randy Johnston, MD, tells YO Info how he changed his mind and offers three ways you can get more involved with the Academy this year.

2010 Academy President Randy Johnston, MDI am a third-generation ophthalmologist. My grandfather was an EENT (eyes, ear, nose and throat) doctor. While they didn’t have the ophthalmology specialty per se back then, he practiced ophthalmic procedures. My father was also an ophthalmologist, performing all types of ophthalmic exams and surgical procedures.

So, as you can imagine, while I always knew I wanted to be a physician, I was pretty convinced I was NOT going to be an ophthalmologist. Then, during my medical school rotations, I took an ophthalmology elective and loved it. It was one of those moments when you realize that your parents are smarter than you gave them credit for. All I could think of was, “So, this is why my dad does this!” After graduating from medical school at the University of Utah, I continued on to do my residency and internship there.

I also decided to do a retinal fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania. It was there that I met one of my professional mentors, Alexander (“Sandy”) Brucker, MD. I did my fellowship with him in Philadelphia and 75 percent of the knowledge I use daily comes from him.

Dr. Brucker gave me the whole experience. He was intensely loyal to his fellows, making sure we learned, while still ensuring that our lives were going well. He also taught me how to see patients efficiently and effectively. The key is not to procrastinate. I definitely have to credit Dr. Brucker with my medical experience as well as my practice model.

I then left Pennsylvania and returned to Cheyenne, Wyo., where I went into private practice with my father, specializing in vitreoretinal diseases and surgery. I was in practice with my father for 10 years, before he retired at age 72.

The Path to the Academy
I became interested in the Academy early on in my career. My first position was on the Council, the policy advisory body to the Academy’s Board of Trustees, followed by five years on the state affairs committee. That’s where I met Elliot Finklestein, MD. He is by far the most effective person I’ve ever met at running meetings. I have adopted his meeting style and I am the better for it.

2010 Academy President speaking with Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., during Congressional Advocacy Day.
Dr. Johnston meeting with Sen. John
Barrasso, R-Wyo., during Congressional
Advocacy Day.

I’ve been fortunate to have Allan Jensen, MD, as a mentor within the Academy. There is no doubt that he helped to shape and guide my career. I met Allan when I was on the Council and he was the vice chair at the time. He took me under his wing and taught me about the Academy and what it stands for.

After finishing my term on the Council, I served on the OPHTHPAC committee, eventually chairing it. Next, I sat on the Academy Board of Trustees as senior secretary for advocacy, a position Dr. Jensen had just vacated to become the president-elect, then president. I have followed in his footsteps ever since, serving myself as president-elect in 2009 and now as president in 2010.

Goals for 2010
Do you know the old saying that people only use 10 percent of their brains? Similarly, I believe the Academy operates with a fraction of its potential. This is most clear to me in the advocacy realm. We haven’t done nearly as good a job advocating for our profession and we could … and should.

In general, only 10 percent to 20 percent of current Academy members are engaged in advocacy. This needs to increase and it needs to increase now.

Learn. There are so many ways to get involved that everyone should be able to get involved in some way. The first is to become a personal advocate for ophthalmology by becoming informed in state and federal issues. Get to know your representatives and any pending legislation, both in your state as well as the national level. Be a member of your state ophthalmology society, as well as the Academy.

Contribute. Next, we need people to contribute money and/or time. On the financial-contribution end, you can donate to OPHTHPAC to support federal issues and the Surgical Scope Fund to support state efforts.

Advocate. To contribute time, you can get involved with your state society and help guide representatives from your district on the issues that affect you and your practice. The best part is that your state society can help you with the how and when of advocacy.

On the federal issues, I would encourage everyone to attend the Mid-Year Forum in Washington, D.C. (this year, April 21 to 24). The Academy’s Advocacy Ambassador Program has been incredibly successful over the last six years in getting residents to attend this meeting.

If you have not yet attended the, Mid-Year Forum make it a priority for 2010. You will learn advocacy issues and meet with your congressmen and senators. We currently have close to 500 total ophthalmologists attend and it has always been an effective effort. Imagine what we could do with 1,000 or 2,000 attendees! We would be a force to be reckoned with.

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