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Up Front | Jun 2002

5 Questions with Richard L. Lindstrom, MD

Renowned innovator and lecturer, Dr. Richard Lindstrom, discusses the importance of striving for excellence.

How does a surgeon make his way to the podium? A surgeon must begin by working to be outstanding in his or her performance, but must also strive to be a good teacher, both one-on-one and from the podium. Mentoring and course work can help, but, to reach the highest level of contribution, a surgeon must be a great innovator. The most in-demand surgeons work in the clinic and in the OR, but they also continuously search for incremental improvements to benefit their patients, as well as their profession. When appropriate, surgeons should accept leadership positions, which require hard work but increase their network of contacts and return benefits unforeseen when the task is accepted.

What is your most memorable international experience in the field? As a young Assistant Professor at the University of Minnesota, I was asked to travel to Sri Lanka for Project Orbis to work with Hudson Silva, a legend in eye banking. During this trip, I was introduced to a Japanese ophthalmic medium containing chondrotin sulfate, which was being used to preserve and ship intact globes to Japan for transplant. My cell biologist, Deb Skelnik, and I were able to add this to our media experiments for the preservation of donor corneoscleral rims. A difficult trip that I did not want to take led me to a career-long relationship with Orbis and enhanced the art and science of keratoplasty globally.

Have you ever made an endorsement for a technique or technology that you later regretted? I do not recall endorsing anything I later regretted. I have, however, worked with many technologies that were less successful than I would have anticipated, such as Intacs and the 3M and IOLab multifocal lenses. I have always tried to be objective and honest with my colleagues, because I believe retaining one's credibility is extremely important for the ophthalmologist who wants to teach others. The truth is that much of what we believe to be true today that is taught as dogma will be proven wrong in the next 5 to 10 years. I often say when I am lecturing that 50% of what I am going to state is not true, but unfortunately I do not currently know which 50%.

What makes the Phillips Eye Institute Center for Teaching and Research unique? The Phillips Eye Institute, where I practice, is an outstanding clinical center of excellence that is open to all ophthalmologists to use. It has 10 ORs, a diagnostic center, an in-patient unit, and 150 ophthalmologists on its staff. The Center for Teaching and Research adds education and surgical skills transfer instruction, as well as clinical research, to the clinical care mission of the institution.

What would you like to accomplish over the next 5 years? At age 54, I am beginning to reduce my clinical/surgical load to take a little more time to smell the roses. I expect I will not choose to retire, but rather simply to reduce some of the pressures that come with practicing too much. I will also continue to remain very active in new product development and research, as well as surgical skills transfer teaching. I am currently the managing partner of Minnesota Eye Consultants, and I plan to consolidate the position and profitability of this entity to the benefit of my junior associates over the next millenium. I find I get as much enjoyment from their success as I did from my own at a younger age..

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