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Why did you choose to become an eye surgeon?

I was sure for the first two and a half years of medical school that I would do brain surgery. Then, something unexpected happened.

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Joel Hunter, MD
Joel Hunter, MD
Refractive Surgeon, Hunter Vision Updated 05/19/17 11:00 AM

Today, to continue this endeavor to answer Hunter Vision staff questions, we start with our wonderful, kind Surgery Counselor, Marylee. She tells people about 3D LASIK and laser eye surgery in general. She also manages the surgery schedule. She said maybe people would want to know why I chose to do eyes.

It wasn’t always that way. I wanted to be a doctor from time immemorial (age 13) and wallpapered my middle school room with anatomy posters and studied anatomy in the evenings sometimes to prepare for medical school. (A quick aside, if any burgeoning pre-medical students are reading this and think it sounds like a good idea, it is not. The years of occasional anatomy study leading to medical school saved me a total of three minutes in medical school anatomy. Turns out it was a little more in depth than I had imagined it would be.) More specifically, I wanted to be a neurosurgeon. Why, you ask? One, because it was the most impressive to say when people casually ask what you do. And two, I thought it would be very fun.

I was sure for the first two and a half years of medical school that I would do brain surgery. I would move to the front of the class when our neuroscience professor would teach. He was a man with a great handlebar mustache and an unopened umbrella he used both as a walking stick and to point to the screen behind him. I revered Dr. Nolan, and became the neuroscience course liaison. A job with a purpose as inscrutable as its title. After learning the academic part of it all, I was more sure than ever about neurosurgery. I lobbied to have a new, solo, two-week neurosurgical specialty added to my surgery rotation. And then something remarkable and unexpected happened.

It was very miserable. The residents were miserable. The attending physicians were miserable. The nurses were miserable. The only outliers in this unbroken chain of misery were the patients, who were all asleep. For a week, I persevered, trying to counter their unhappiness with my own enthusiasm. But that was all I could muster, a week. It took one week to undo 10 years of unbroken momentum towards one goal. One week in, I was sitting in a routine eight hour (!) case, a sub thalamic stimulator placement for Parkinson’s, and I had a completely novel thought, “I don’t have to do this.” And that was it, I spent the next seven hours thinking of what other microsurgical speciality I might like. I came down to three: reproductive endocrinology and infertility, vascular surgery, or ophthalmology.

Ophthalmology ended up being the clear winner. And since it turns out I write even more than I talk, I’ll have to save that story for another day.


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