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For this month’s YO Spotlight, we talked to Matthew Appenzeller, MD, an alum of both Teach for America and the Medical University of South Carolina. He s part of a small group practice with Academy past president Michael Brennan, MD, and others in Burlington, N.C. Dr. Appenzeller talks about his passion for advocacy and why patients benefit when their doctor has a happy family.
Why did you become an ophthalmologist? There are two basic reasons behind my becoming an ophthalmologist. First, my stepmother underwent a corneal transplant when I was eight years old. This started a fascination with the eye that was ever-present.
Second, early in medical school, I decided that I should not have to choose between medicine and surgery. I wanted to find a field that allowed me to have long-term relationships with patients, to consider elements of internal medicine and to cure disease with my hands. Given the early fascination with eyes, ophthalmology was a perfect fit.
What does a typical day look like for you? My typical day starts around 6:30 a.m. I try to either workout or make breakfast for my family. I start seeing patients about 8 a.m. and I get to know many of them personally, given the intensity of the disease processes I follow.
I usually have multiple work-ins as my partners see urgents for flashes that turn out to be retinal tears or patients with new diabetic ocular disease. I finish up and head home to make dinner for my wife and kids, unless there is journal club, after-hours surgery or a meeting. I read some, watch some bad TV and get to bed early if the next day is an OR day. That’s a typical work day.
What do you like most about the organization/health system/region where you practice? What I like most about the organization I work for is that it is based in respect and friendship, and places our family first. I was treated as a partner from day one, and cannot ask for a better group of people to work with. My technicians and nurses love to laugh as much as work, and my patients genuinely want to know how my family is doing.
As for the region, who can ask for more than the research triangle and triad of North Carolina…especially for the college-basketball fan?!
What is the hardest thing you have had to do? The hardest thing I have dealt with is the politics of North Carolina ophthalmology. I have made advocacy a priority of my career, and have been working for the advocacy goals of the Academy ever since I was a first-year resident.
I have taken on the task of legislative chair of the North Carolina Society of Eye Physicians and Surgeons, and this is the hardest thing I have done. It has always been difficult to inspire our colleagues to get involved in politics, and this is particularly true in North Carolina.
It is my hope that the recent legislated expansion of scope of practice for optometry in Kentucky and the dangers that poses to our patients will help awaken my friends and colleagues here. However, it continues to be a hard task.
What accomplishment are you most proud of? I have to say I am most proud of my time as a school teacher with Teach for America. My proudest moment was taking a group of kids from rural Louisiana to compete in a national science competition and coming in second in the country. I always look back at that and realize that anything is possible if you set your expectations high, and believe that hard work can get you there.
What is the best piece of advice you have gotten? “If momma ain’t happy, nobody is happy.” In the end, it always comes back to your family. A happy family makes for a happy doctor. A happy doctor makes for better-served patients. Better-served patients makes for better outcomes.
What advice would you give to a resident? Always be involved. There is so much more than your practice. We are in a time of tremendous change in this nation. If we are to maintain a high level of care for our patients, we must remember that our competence is only a part of that.
Be a part of your community and take part in the politics of your city and state. Everyone must advocate for our patients, for our families and for our fellow citizens.