Promoting Diversity in Eye Care

Diversity in leadership can help advance ophthalmic innovation and patient care. In this episode, Gary Wörtz, MD, speaks with two female leaders in the field to learn more about the Ophthalmic Women Leaders (OWL) organization. Listen as Bindu Manne, of Imprimis, and Jennifer Loh, MD, discuss the advancement of women in eye care and efforts to expand the scope of OWL beyond gender.

Gary Wörtz, MD: Open, outspoken. It’s Ophthalmology off the Grid—an honest look at controversial topics in the field. I'm Gary Wörtz.

For decades, ophthalmology like many medical specialties, was lacking in diversity. Fortunately, efforts to address the under representation of several important groups have taken shape and continue to grow and evolve our field.

In this episode, I decided to touch base with two female leaders in ophthalmology, Bindu Manne, of Imprimis, and Dr. Jennifer Loh, to learn more about OWL and the organization's commitment to promoting the advancement of women in eye care.

Recognizing homogeneity in all forms is a true hindrance to progress, OWL has been working to expand its scope, which will be represented by a new name change for the organization, to be revealed here for the first time. Listen in.

Speaker 2: Ophthalmology off the Grid is supported in part by beye.com, a new product listing website for the eye care community. Beye.com contains over 800 product listing pages with in-depth specs, high-res images, video demonstrations, unbiased user reviews, the option to purchase products, and more. Find us on the web at beye—that's b-e-y-e—.com.

Gary:

This is Gary Wörtz once again with Ophthalmology off the Grid, and today I have Dr Jennifer Loh and Bindu Manne with us talking about OWL. And OWL, for people who don't know, has been just a tremendous group that is advanced female leadership in ophthalmology and really has kind of grown beyond that and has really kind of taken on a really neat mission. As I've kind of gotten to know both Bindu and Jennifer over the past couple of years, it's been clear to me that they've both been very instrumental in some of these initiatives. They're both very involved with OWL, and, with that being said, I just want to welcome both to the program. If you don't mind, just take a moment to introduce yourselves, and if you don't mind, Bindu, you can start and then, Jennifer, give a brief introduction as well.

Bindu Manne: Thank you so much for having me, Dr. Wörtz. Thank you on behalf of everyone at OWL. My name is Bindu Manne. I am with Imprimis Pharmaceuticals and also hold a co-chair position and on the membership committee at OWL. So, thank you for having us.

Jennifer Loh, MD: Thank you so much, Gary. My name's Jennifer Loh, and I am an ophthalmologist. I've been in practice for about 5 years and have recently started my own practice. I am newer to the OWL organization than Bindu, but I've been so happy to be part of it Bindu and everyone else has welcomed me with open arms, and it's been great to be involved with such a wonderful organization that's promoted camaraderie and leadership amongst women in ophthalmology.

Gary: Well, once again, just thank you all for, for spending some time with me talking about this. You know, my interaction with OWL, as many of my interesting interactions in ophthalmology, has come through Bill Trattler, who you both know obviously very well. And, you know, so I think I'm at a meeting a couple years ago and, and Bill's there and he says, "Hey, I'm going to this OWL meeting. You should come with me," and I'm like, "Well, I'm, I'm not a woman and, you know, diversity really doesn't apply as much to my situation. I'm not sure I have a whole lot to add." He was like, "No, no, no. We'll FOWL. We're friends of OWL, so just come and see what it's all about."

So, of course, you know, Bill can talk anyone into anything, so I end up coming over and listening to one of the OWL presentations, and I was just really, I don't know if inspired is the right word, but I was just really happy to see what was going on. I felt like you all had just a great vibe. I felt like it was very positive. It wasn't, you know, there was nothing negative. It was always about, just sort of like, building each other up and finding opportunities to help each other in this sort of journey we're all on, and I thought it was just really, really awesome.

And so, Bindu, as we've talked a little bit, the name OWL is really an acronym for Ophthalmic Women Leaders, but it's really evolved beyond that. So, give us a little bit of not necessarily a history lesson, but tell us a little bit, give us some perspective on where OWL was in the past, perhaps where it is now, and maybe a little bit of the transition and where you see OWL going in the future.

Bindu: Sure. So, our legacy and our flagship name was always Ophthalmic Women Leaders, and it was founded around, informally, around 2007-2008, because I think it was a prime time and we started to notice a shift and an increase in female representation on the industry side as well as the ophthalmic side and on a physician side, so it just made sense to create an organization.

Ophthalmologists are such a tight group and have a strong collaborative spirit. So, it just kind of formed that way, and we're very proud of that legacy. But, the organization grew, and as we evolved, we wanted to become beyond gender and we wanted our name to be reflective of that.

So, we're very excited to announce and for the first time on Ophthalmology off the Grid that we're officially known as Ophthalmic World Leaders.

Gary: Nice, very nice. Sticking with the OWL acronym, but Ophthalmic World Leaders. I love that. That's awesome.

Bindu: Yeah, it's powerful.

Gary:

It very much is and, so Jennifer, tell us a little bit about how you got involved with OWL and maybe a little bit about what OWL has meant to you and your career as you're, maybe not quite at the beginning of your career, but you're still early in your career, so give us a little bit of perspective on how you're involved.

Jennifer:

Thank you. Yes, OWL. I was, several years ago, at an Academy meeting with some friends, and you know, it was like the Sunday night OWL event. I'd never been to an OWL event at all, but I'd heard so many great things that a group of us decided to go to the reception in the evening. We signed up and just had a wonderful time, and I think what impressed me most about the organization, sort of like Bindu said, was that, and Gary you saw this also, was that it was just an organization, it was an event that was truly just about being together learning from each other and networking.

Although the focus was, at the time, you know, on female, women in ophthalmology, from industry to those and practice, it was really about learning and camaraderie and there wasn't any competitiveness. You know, I really like that, and I really liked how it was an all-inclusive group. There were men at the meeting, probably Bill was there too.

Gary: Bill is probably going to be at every meeting.

I might have been there. I might have been there.

Jennifer:

But, you know, it was just great. It was just about inspiring people, whether male or female, to be better leaders, and I think that really spoke to me, and since then, it's been a pleasure just going to the events. They’re such a well-organized group, you know. At every major meeting and even some of the smaller meetings, like at AECOS, they will host events, and it's just great to see everyone.

Bindu:

Yeah, and that was very well said, Dr. Loh, and if I can just add to that just a little bit about the network. We are very unique, and we're the only organization and a nonprofit one that unites every stakeholder in eye care. The physicians, industry, practice professionals, consultants, or media, so it is externally diverse in every sense of the word, and everyone is a leader or a leader in training in their respective profession.

And we do have one thing in common that is we're extremely devoted to ophthalmology, very passionate, and we all strive to have a greater impact on patient care through exchange of ideas.

Gary: Well, and I think that's just so interesting. It's a diverse group that's passionate about diversity, but also passionate about leadership. And I do think it's very interesting the way you have it organized, where it's not just ophthalmologists or not just ophthalmologists and maybe a few people in the industry; it really looks like you're creating a network where you are coming at ophthalmology from all sides. And also, you know, the old adage that the rising tide floats all boats.

You know, there are opportunities, I'm sure that get passed around, where maybe there's a program that would benefit some physicians to participate in or maybe physicians need some media or there's some practice development things. I think sometimes people look at diversity as something that you have to have a certain number of certain individuals to be diverse, but they miss the fact that diversity is a benefit to any organization because you're going to get a different perspective on whatever the conversation is; they will add richness and depth and value, and so I think that by having not just ophthalmologists, not just one demograph, a diverse group that is passionate about diversity, there's just a richness, almost like a soil that has been properly fertilized. It's a ground for great ideas and helping each other out.

You know, the other thing I think about almost as I think about particularly females in ophthalmology, we have such a stacked deck of amazing women in ophthalmology. I'm just thinking off the top of my head. Besides the two of you that are on this call, we've got Dee Stephenson, we've got Cathleen McCabe, Malvina Eydelman, Marsha Link, Liz Yeu, Kendall Donaldson, Marguerite McDonald. I mean, there are just rock stars in ophthalmology. I mean, and on the other side you've got Taryn Conway. You've got Tammy Bogetti. I could just go on and on about the incredible women in ophthalmology, and so, you know, maybe the guys are the underdogs. II'm not so sure that's not the case, but there's just some tremendous talent that I've just been blown away by.

Bindu: Yeah, and you know, I read a great article on Dr. Jennifer Loh in MillennialEYE, and she kind of made a reference to this because when I started my career 11 years ago, as you know, I live in New York City, I worked and continue to work with a major academic institution. Every year, around July or August, I would look at their new resident roster and, let me tell you, 11 years ago, there was very little diversity, and 5 years ago, 6 years ago, I start to notice a couple females here and there. But, if you look at the roster now, it is just remarkable. There is, I would say, about 50% of the graduating class are females, or even the entire roster, so it's really remarkable. On the industry side too, you notice an increase in female executives too. So, I think it's a great time to be in the eye care field, and it's exciting.

Jennifer:

I definitely agree, and thank you for your kind words, Bindu. I appreciate you reading the article I definitely agree with both of your comments and, going back to OWL too … I think one of the things, and Gary you highlighted this, I really liked is that it really is all-inclusive of all the different levels and different parts of the ophthalmology industry, and I think that's what's always attracted me to OWL. I think that's really one of its biggest strengths is that it's great to just come together as a community and work together and be part of a team. Good stuff I truly value.

Gary: We've got Academy that's coming up, and maybe other programs and meetings that are coming up throughout the rest of this calendar year and then coming into the beginning of next year, what are some of the programs or some of the initiatives that OWL is going to be looking to pursue maybe in the next 12 months?

Bindu:

So, we have a really exciting event. We have our signature event that we dedicate a lot of time and resources to, and that is heavily supported by industry, so thank you to industry. Our event is on October 16th at the McCormick center from 5:30 to 7:00. Our keynote speaker, a tremendous woman, is Dr. Elizabeth Yeu, and then we also have awards ceremony. So that's what's going on at AAO.

We hold a lot of events at a lot of the major ophthalmology meetings. We have an OWL roost at the Hawaiian Eye meeting. We have an event at ASCRS, ARVO, AAO, and even the AECOS meeting too.

Our networking events are the most powerful, but we also hold informational educational sessions online through our webinars as well. So, we encourage you to go to our website and check those out as well.

Gary: That's excellent. Jennifer, anything else you'd like to add about how OWL has helped you in your career? Maybe a brief story or an anecdote on some other people you've met in OWL or maybe getting some advice about transitioning or starting a new practice? Have there been any tangibles that you've been able to, you know, derive from this camaraderie in this group?

Jennifer: Yes, definitely. Obviously the networking has been tremendously helpful, just getting to know everyone and their different perspectives and different parts of industry and ophthalmologist has been invaluable. I would say one of my more recent favorite moments actually was at the last Academy meeting that was held in Las Vegas. The OWL signature event was really, really impressive to me. They set up several speakers with different topics about leadership, and the speaker that I listened to that evening was a woman by the name of Wendy Lipton-Dibner. Her talk was about focus on impact, and she's actually written a book and she's a great speaker, and she shared her life story about how when she went out on her own and started her career, she created a business not with the focus of making money or about being successful necessarily but about making an impact on customers that they were trying to serve.

Just hearing her speak like that really has guided me, and I still think about that talk even today and how, as I'm starting my own practice, not to worry so much about the numbers or how many patients I'm seeing or how many cataract surgeries I'm doing, but to really worry about just making an impact on every individual patient and how if I focus on that, you know, then the success will come and the patients will come.

I found that talk and that event to really be rewarding and you know, just want to thank OWL and the team that created that event and all the wonderful events we go to. They really make a difference.

Gary:

I think that's awesome. You know, I think sometimes, as young professionals, we're just kind of expected to be leaders, but we're not necessarily mentored to the leaders, and we may have almost a lack in leadership training, which is actually a legitimate field of study. And if you don't seek that out on your own, many times you might be lacking in the fundamentals of leadership if it doesn't come naturally or you haven't tried to go in those areas.

I've been reading some leadership books. You know, I love Simon Sinek. He's one of my favorite authors, and he has a book called "Leaders Eat Last" and just talks about great ways to lead people. And one of the things I've really been focused on is, and it’s kind of in the same vein of what you're talking about, you want to pursue excellence. You want to do things the right way and kind of let the chips fall where they may. If you focus so much on outcomes and not on the process, you can fool yourself into thinking that you're doing a good job and maybe it's just a short term-gain and a long-term loss.

So I think there's a lot of wisdom in what you're saying, Jennifer, that, you know, if you focus on why you show up to work everyday, if you focus on giving people something that will impact their lives over the long term, your practice has no other choice but to grow if you're doing the right thing. And it may not grow at the pace that you want, you may not be doing as many cataracts this week as you would like to be doing, but when you're on that trajectory, you're going to get there.

Leadership is also kind of funny because you really can't choose who follows you. You just have to be a person that people find worthy of following, so it's kind of also very interesting when you kind of start talking about leadership. With OWL, it's all about advancing diversity and leadership and so, Bindu, I'd just like to ask, any other final comments on how OWL can help maybe the younger physicians, maybe even residents, as they are trying to launch their career or get it started? What would you say for even the younger folks out there?

Bindu: Sure, thank you. So, OWL is very passionate about encouraging young physicians or even people in industry to build their network of influencers or mentors early on in one's career because we think it could open up doors to various opportunities, broaden your horizons, and, and overall could enhance your medical knowledge.

You know, when you have that strong network, you become more powerful, and it goes back to our mission, which is having a greater impact on patient care. And all of our leadership positions at OWL are volunteer-based, and the leadership team consists of professionals from the industry, physicians who are at the top of their game with thriving careers, and the time they dedicate to OWL is really from their free time. They’re very committed to helping young physicians or people in industry grow into future leaders. So, I think it's important to build that network early on in their career, and I'm sure Dr. Loh can probably speak to that.

Jennifer: I definitely agree, Bindu. In residency, we have our close friends and attending, but what becomes important as you graduate and then move on with your career is really the people that you get to know and network with, just like you said, because without a community, without a team of people on your side, it becomes much more difficult to grow. But if you have the right people to network with and to facilitate your career with, and bounce ideas off of, I mean, it can really help you grow and take you to different levels of your career. Also, more importantly, it makes life and the profession much more fun. So, it's very important.

Gary:

You know, and just to add a little bit to that out of my own experience, I've just been so impressed with our industry. Whether it's on the ophthalmology side or the industry side, there are so many people who are willing to help from the very top key opinion leaders to, you know, co-residents. It just seems like we are very fortunate and lucky to exist in an environment that's very collegial, and that's something I think that we can all benefit from. And OWL has definitely taken the bull by the horns and is fostering that, so I just want to commend OWL for making this a priority in ophthalmology, in particular.

Thank you both so much for coming on and just sharing your experiences and your perspectives on OWL and ophthalmology. I'd love to have you back in the future if you ever have topics that you would like to share with us. This is what it's all about, just connecting and talking about topics that can help others. So, thank you very much. I really appreciate it.

Jennifer: You're welcome. Thank you so much, Gary, for having us on. It was definitely an honor, and and I hope we can come back again soon. Gary: Absolutely. Okay. This is Ophthalmology off the Grid with Bindu Manne, Jennifer Loh, and Gary Wörtz. Diversity in leadership can help advance ophthalmic innovation and patient care. Ophthalmology as a whole will best progress with the inclusion of a range of voices ideas and experience. Learning from others and with others helps us develop personally and professionally and is certainly a rewarding and effective way to move forward. This has been Ophthalmology off the Grid. Thanks for listening.

Speaker 2:

Ophthalmology off the Grid is supported in part by beye.com, a new product listing website for the eye care community. Beye.com contains over eight hundred product listing pages with in-depth specs, high res images, video demonstrations, unbiased user reviews, the option to purchase products and more find us on the web at beye—that's b-e-y-e—.com.