Julia A. Haller, MD, is regarded as one of the world’s leading retina experts. But as her colleagues and students would attest, she’s also one of the leading mentors.
A Philadelphia-based ophthalmologist, she has dedicated her career not only to clinical care and research, but also to serving as an enthusiastic and effective educator and role model to residents and young physicians.
These efforts earned her the Academy’s EnergEYES Award during AAO 2018 in Chicago.
Since 2009, the Academy has presented this award to an ophthalmologist who exhibits exemplary leadership skills by energizing others to improve ophthalmology.
Dr. Haller reflects on the importance of mentoring in her own life and shares a few tips on how to forge a successful path in ophthalmology.
An Accomplished Career as Mentor and Mentee
Dr. Haller’s credentials are impressive: magna cum laude honors at Princeton, a medical degree from Harvard, the first female chief resident at the Wilmer Eye Institute and multiple professorial appointments at Johns Hopkins. She was then recruited to lead Wills Eye Hospital in 2007. Throughout her journey, mentors have had a profound impact.
“We all look up to those we admire and try to take aspects of their character and emulate them,” said Dr. Haller. “The way I practice medicine, my surgical approaches, the ways I interact with patients, the societies I have aspired to join and lead, my professional ambitions in general — these have all been shaped by colleagues, peers and friends who have mentored me.”
It’s no surprise then that, in addition to seeing a large volume of patients and helping run one of the most successful eye hospitals in the world, Dr. Haller also takes special pride in giving back as a mentor herself.
“I’ve been in academic medicine my whole career,” she said, “so I’ve been mentoring residents and junior faculty since I, too, was a YO! It’s been especially gratifying to help with job searches and negotiations, to recommend for promotions and awards and to see those whose careers I’ve been privileged to touch blossom as they become leaders in all aspects of our great field.”
Top Tips for YO Success
Looking back on her role as both mentor and mentee, she has advice to help future clinicians, colleagues and leaders:
1. Espouse excellence. “Do a really superb job in whatever field you choose — become the ‘go to’ person clinically for those around you. You can accomplish this by following the famous ‘Three’ as passed down by Wills [Eye Hospital] mentors: be able, affable, and available.”
2. Find a good mentor. “Look around you. Mentors can be peers and friends. They can be people you see at meetings and symposia. You can learn a lot just from observation and imitation. But for hands-on mentoring, you need to approach senior partners and colleagues and pick their brains formally or informally. It’s ideal to find a project or paper to work on together that builds connections and time for interactions.”
3. Build expertise outside of the clinic. “Figure out what else beyond clinical excellence you want to have in your life, such as teaching, clinical research, community outreach, serving on institutional or organizational committees. One of the great things about medicine in general and ophthalmology in particular is that there are so many options!”
4. Prioritize your own well-being. “We have to take care of ourselves in order to take care of our families and our patients. So build time for sleep and exercise. Make friends and put time into keeping them. And above all, don't take yourself too seriously and keep your sense of humor — laughing loud and long with friends is the best antidote to burnout!”
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About the author: Mike Mott is a former assistant editor for EyeNet Magazine and contributing writer for YO Info.