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Preparing to pass the baton at Wills Eye


A highlight of this issue of Ophthalmology Times is the article on Page 1 discussing the end of the chairmanship of William Tasman, MD. Under his leadership of the excellent and storied Wills Eye Institute, a great institution became even stronger.

The comments of Dr. Tasman and Thomas J. Nasca, MD (dean of Jefferson Medical College) are insightful as well as portentous for our field: "There are a tremendous number [more than 30] of vacancies for chairs in ophthalmology."

I found the following quote of interest (not just because this July begins my fifth year as chairman of my current department): "In a number of disciplines, the projected tenure of service of chairs is less than 4 years. There are not a lot of people who are willing to take those kinds of risks with their careers."

"I feel sorry for you department [chairmen]," he said. "Because your funds are so limited these days, you frequently have to say 'no' to people in your departments who ask for funding. Eventually you make everyone mad at you."

Maybe the financial weakness of many academic departments is a big reason that many people don't want to head them and that many who do have that desire can't keep the job very long. Or is it that the practice of ophthalmology is so gratifying that many decide it's not worth cutting back on patient care to deal with administrative hassles? Or is it that research to discover new cures (bench work or clinical trials) is so exciting that people don't want to cut back on that part in favor of department leadership duties?

Let's face it; there are only so many hours in a day, very few people can do everything, and most chairmen or chairwomen have to give up some personal achievements to do things that benefit their departments. Honestly, how many department heads are cutting-edge researchers these days? How many are stellar clinicians whose names are universally recognized? Speaking of funds, how many are great fundraisers on behalf of their institutions? How many rise to lead our national organizations?

Of the 125 or so departments of ophthalmology in this country, how many of their leaders could you even name? How does a chairperson achieve work-life balance if one is worried about being fired before finishing the fourth year? Can one really be a department head and excel as an individual while also advancing the entire institution?

Dr. Tasman made it look easy. Search PubMed under his name and you'll find that he's authored a couple hundred important papers, improving our understanding and treatment of retinopathy of prematurity (and other retinal diseases). He's past president of the American Academy of Ophthalmology and a bunch of other prestigious organizations, and "Googling" his name will make obvious his major presence regionally, nationally, and internationally.

Financially, he's a gifted fundraiser who effectively presented the case for supporting Wills Eye to his community, and who consequently hands his successor a strong and secure organization.

Work-life balance? He's got that covered, too, as evidenced by his advice that we "be home for dinner" and children's sporting events (areas where yours truly failed miserably while my own children were growing), plus his marriage of 45 years and counting. From my perspective down the road on I-95, he still was able to excel personally while strengthening his department.

There's no doubt in my mind that Wills Eye will continue as the outstanding institution it is today. But are there enough Bill Tasmans among the next generation of ophthalmologists to populate the 30 departments that need them?

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