Sometimes, patients will ask me, “If you were getting LASIK, who would you go to?” and my answer is always the same: “I did have LASIK—and I did my own, using a complicated system of mirrors.” Every once in a while someone won’t realize I’m joking and then I’ll feel bad because I have to immediately confess that I was just trying to say something entertaining, but I don't want them to feel silly for believing me. It’s the same reason I would make a terrible magician. “Sorry everyone, you see, my assistant just scrunched her legs up into this first box and I never cut her in half with this big saw. This saw isn’t even a real saw. I apologize for deceiving you.”
The truth is, there are an elite group of LASIK surgeons who are incredible at their job. I wouldn’t hesitate to let any one of them operate on someone I care about. Lewis Groden, MD, who operates in Tampa, Florida, is the man who did my LASIK, and he is one of those people. He was my mentor through residency and was the one who built the foundations for my understanding of refractive surgery. And since I get the question a fair amount, and I thought maybe it could be helpful for people living other places in the country, here's a “best of” list (of refractive surgeons):
Dan Durrie, MD
Dr. Durrie is the founder of Durrie Vision in Overland Park, Kansas. I did my fellowship with him. A few weeks in, I realized that I was right to have so desperately wanted to learn from him that I moved my family to Kansas. I realized it when all of the doctors who write articles in ophthalmology magazines and speak at big conferences were coming to see Dr. Durrie to learn from him. This happened every week. Part of my job at Durie Vision was to give the refractive surgery big wigs tours, and to explain the new technology we used.
Stephen Slade, MD
Dr. Slade’s clinic is in Houston, Texas and he was the co-writer of the study (with Dr. Durrie) that coined the term Sub-Bowman’s Keratomileusis (SBK) for the new, improved LASIK technique done entirely with laser. He is also very kind and has a voice that could be, and is, regularly used to make the most anxious patient feel like they are entering into hypnosis-level relaxation. Almost every new laser or technology goes to his clinic first for him to put it through the paces.
Vance Thompson, MD
Many people south of the Mason Dixon line may never have heard of this great man without reading this blog, and that alone would make the writing worth it. Dr. Thompson founded a practice in Souix Falls, South Dakota that is one of the most amazing I’ve ever seen. Even the building itself is a masterpiece with huge, three-story, floor-to-ceiling windows offering vistas for miles across the plains. But much more important, Dr. Thompson is a surgeon so brilliant and prolific that many patients drive hundreds of miles just so he can be their doctor. Also, he is the nicest guy I’ve ever known. I mean that literally. I may someday meet someone nicer, but I will only believe it after I verify that it’s not Vance Thompson in disguise.
Karl Stonecipher, MD
Dr. Stonecipher is the winner every year of the Coolest Name in Ophthalmology award. His practice is in Greensboro, North Carolina and he’s been involved in many studies to advance LASIK technology. It’s also exceptionally rare to find a doctor who’s a great researcher and a talented public speaker. Most speakers in ophthalmology world make you think, “Yes. Clearly this is a man who prefers math to speaking with people.”
Marguerite McDonald, MD
Dr. McDonald practices in New York, but she was in New Orleans for years before that. She was the first in the U.S. to perform excimer laser on a person. Lasers have gotten a lot better since the late 80s, and she’s been there for all of it. Dr. McDonald is also a world leader in dry eye treatment. While out at dinner with her once, she saw a picture of my son and remarked that he was very handsome. It was around this time that I objectively realized she was not only a great surgeon, but also a delightful person.
Robert Maloney, MD
Dr. Maloney’s CV reads like a fictional, ultimate doctor character in a novel. Summa cum laude at Harvard? Check. Johns Hopkins medical school? Check. Rhodes scholar? Check. He ended up practicing in Los Angeles, which has been convenient for the celebrities who all choose Dr. Maloney to do their LASIK. And he’s a really personable guy with a charismatic personality—amazing since his list of accomplishments makes it seem like he’d almost have to be all brain and no heart. He’s extraordinarily successful because he’s both good at what he does and also just plain good.
Ronald Krueger, MD
Dr. Krueger is the head honcho for refractive surgery at The Cleveland Clinic. A lot of his work is in the academic realm with publishing and reviewing scientific literature. This literature comprises the major medical journals refractive surgeons base their decisions on. Most “academic” type surgeons are more famous for their research than for their surgical prowess. Dr. Krueger breaks that mold, however. He’s an amazing surgeon, so he generally has access to new and evolving technology because companies want to know what he thinks. And when he speaks at refractive surgery meetings, people listen because other surgeons want to know what he thinks as well. As an added bonus, behind closed doors when patients aren’t around, it’s obvious that he cares for people and is motivated by doing right by each patient.
Phil Hoopes, MD
Dr. Hoopes was actually in a practice with Dr. Durrie until 2000, when he moved to Utah and built a refractive surgery practice from the ground up. And my, oh my, did he build a practice. I’ve spent time with Dr. Hoopes and although I can guarantee he doesn’t remember it, I definitely do. It was during my fellowship with Dr. Durrie, and my conversation with him had a real impact because it gave a little more definition to what I wanted Hunter Vision to be like when we started it. His practice is designed so that each step in the process focuses on the question of “what would be the best possible experience a patient could have with this step?” Surgeons fly to Utah to see Hoopes Vision firsthand and learn how to emulate their process back home.
There are a lot of other great LASIK surgeons in the country. They all have the same two things in common: they are very smart, and they care about your eyes as much as they’d care about their best friend’s eyes. If those two qualities are there, the rest usually falls into place.