Dr. Martin remembered for his commitment to excellence

Robert Gale Martin, MD, is being remembered as the man who opened the first ambulatory surgery center east of the Mississippi River and helped found three national organizations dedicated to quality eye care.

Dr. Martin, a cataract and refractive surgeon who founded Carolina Eye Associates in Pinehurst, NC, and helped form the American College of Eye Surgeons (ACES), the American Board of Eye Surgery (ABES), and the Society for Excellence in Eyecare Inc. (SEE), died March 18. He was 65.

Friends and co-workers describe him as a man devoted to excellence in every corner of his life, from his personal work ethic and his faith to his patient care.

"He looked, physically, like Superman, and that was kind of his nickname," recalled his friend and colleague John R. Kearney, MD, of the Cataract Care Center in Johnstown, NY. "I remember one night calling him up about 8 p.m., and he had just finished his chemo, and he said, 'I'm tired.' " Dr. Kearney said he suspected that chemotherapy was getting the better of his friend. "He said, 'Well, I got up at 4 o'clock this morning, worked out for an hour, did 40 cataract cases, saw 60 patients, went home, and cooked dinner,' and he was tired.

"He just worked like a demon. He just loved to work," Dr. Kearney said.

That love led him to pursue a residency at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas, where he later served as director of residency training. He then completed a fellowship in microbacteriology at the Proctor Foundation at the University of California, San Francisco, and returned to UT Southwestern as an assistant professor of ophthalmology.

In 1977, he and his wife, Bernice, returned to North Carolina, where they raised four children and he founded his practice with George Tate, MD. Dr. Martin had a reputation for insisting on using the latest technology and best IOLs available, and he believed that such devices could be employed best at an outpatient setting where he had a consistent, reliable staff and could control the equipment purchases, Dr. Kearney said.

"His ultimate concern was always the care the patient was receiving, and he realized early on they could receive better care in an ambulatory surgery center than they could in a hospital," he said. "He was a patient advocate."

Concern for patients

Dr. Martin's concern for patients drove him to help establish ACES and ABES to ensure that ophthalmologists not only theoretically were able to perform surgery, but that they also met specific standards.

In 1989, he became "the founder, leader, and 'soul' " of SEE, which has a mission to educate and inform the public, state, and federal bodies of the high-quality eye-care services provided by its members; to develop and implement standards of practice and promote high-quality, cost-effective eye-care services; and to lobby on behalf of its members with regard to patient benefits, said Trent Roark, SEE's executive director. Dr. Martin was a founding member who acted as chairman of the board until his death.

"Dr. Martin was a man of action and few, carefully chosen words," Roark recalled. "He believed in SEE and was active until his death because he was an advocate for the patient and his profession. As a leader, he would challenge all who were around him to grow professionally and personally."