Let me rewind, and tell you how I reached my decision.
First, a brief description about my training background. My residency rocks! I could not have asked for a better residency program. It was ridiculously busy, and we often ran around in clinic like chickens with their heads chopped off. However, thanks to this chaotic learning environment, I have become a competent, confident, and truly comprehensive ophthalmologist. I feel comfortable handling almost anything that walks through my door.
My aspirations one year ago were the complete opposite of what they are today. Having had a modicum of success playing poker throughout medical school, I wanted to work part-time as an ophthalmologist, while I pursued a full time professional poker career. Starting a solo practice did not even cross my mind. I just looked for an associate position in an area where live poker was easily accessible.
As I began to operate more, I discovered how rewarding it was to help restore vision to people. I thought twice about my priorities. I eventually changed my mind, and decided to become a full-time ophthalmologist. However, I still was not ready to give up my passion for poker.
I ended up receiving a job offer in Las Vegas. How convenient! I verbally accepted the offer in no time. It was a fantastic practice with great people, and it was in the best location for my purposes! My patient volume was going to be immediately strong. I had the potential to perform 300-400 cataract surgeries a year in no time. I would have had much support, and the financial potential was very strong. Odd thing is, once I had the bird in hand, poker seemed less and less important to me. Instead, I started to fixate more on the nuances of this practice opportunity.
I ultimately turned it down.
My future employer wanted to limit my scope of practice because he didn’t want me to “step on the toes” of his referring specialists. I did not like the fact that I would be unnecessarily forced to refer MY patients out even though I was plenty capable of providing the same quality care for them. He was also concerned that I would introduce additional liability to his practice, which is understandable.
I became an ophthalmologist so that I could develop meaningful lifelong relationships with my patients. Unnecessarily referring them out would limit my ability to build these sorts of connections. Don’t get me wrong though. I am far from a cowboy. I know my limits, and I would never let my ego compromise my patients’ well-being. At the end of the day, I still want what’s best for my patients regardless of who does what. However, if I am able to provide a similar service with the same standard of care as a specialist, why should I have to refer a patient out for the sole purpose of retaining a referral source, and ultimately gaining more business? Of course, I’m not completely naive either. Our profession is still a business, and in order to serve our patients, the practice needs to stay afloat. However, I believe that there are other ways to keep a practice alive besides using patients as a bargaining chip.
The other problem with this practice was that there was a relative low Korean-American patient population in the area. Throughout medical school and residency, I was active in the Korean-American community, volunteering at health fairs and other community service events and activities. I wanted to continue serving the Korean-American community as a practicing ophthalmologist.
I was back to square one. I ended up interviewing all over the country. In total, I had three job offers. I turned them all down. Each practice had it’s own attributes, and I would have been more than happy with the compensation each had offered. However, I couldn’t help but focus on the “deficiencies” of each practice. They were too restrictive on my scope of practice; they still believed in practicing 1986 medicine; the facilities were antiquated and the equipment was lacking for my needs; or the volume or structure of the practice was more reminiscent of an assembly line rather than one conducive to developing a genuine doctor-patient relationship.
So, 3 months until residency ends, and I still have no job. Should I just go ahead and play poker professionally since I can’t settle for any associate position? Probably not. The inspiration came one day when I randomly e-mailed an ophthalmologist in Queens, NY asking to see if he would be interested in hiring a Korean-speaking ophthalmologist (80,000 Korean-Americans live in the Queens borough). He replied: “whether I hire you or not, you should open a practice here.” And that’s what did it! This incidental remark gradually consumed me, and here I am today.