What made you want to be an Ophthalmologist?
I grew up in an eye care family. My father was a practicing optometrist in the Philadelphia area and my mother was the practice administrator. I was surrounded by the world of eyes and patients from the time I can remember. For many years, my dad’s office was in the basement of the rowhouse we lived in in Philadlephia and I spent many many afternoons and summer days hanging out and eventually assisting in Dr. Philip Robin’s office. When I went to medical school, I was very young (started at 18!), but I quickly realized that researching eye diseases and taking care of patients with eye problems would be a natural for me – after all, it was in my DNA!!
In your free time what do you enjoy doing?
I always try to be as eclectic as possible. I like music, sports (nearly all of them), photography, and – when I can – working out. Most of my “free” time is occupied being a husband and father to my 3 kids – even though they’re away at college, they still consume a significant portion of my time (and I’m a willing and happy donator!).
What is your most memorable day of being an ophthalmologist?
I’ve been practicing medicine and ophthalmology so many years, it’s really difficult to find a single “most memorable day”. The procedures I have concentrated my career on – particularly LASIK and related vision correction surgeries – have improved (and, in some cases, changed) the lives of thousands of patients. Each one of these I truly regard as “memorable”. But, if pressed, I would answer the question by responding with the personal anecdotes when my family and I were vision correction surgery patients. I had laser vision correction surgery back in 1992 (the first eye doctor in the world to have it, so I’ve been told) and it ended nearly 30 years of needing to wear glasses or contact lenses. It was one the best decisions I ever made and was truly the moment I began the commitment of being a vision correction surgery ophthalmologist. Similarly, I was blessed to be able to perform vision correction surgeries on my wife, sister-in-law, one of my sons, and , most recently, my daughter. Watching the smiles on their faces as they achieved independence from glasses and contacts was truly memorable!
Do you remember your first case and if so what happened?
Wow! I need to break out Mr. Peabody’s WABAC time machine (similar age travelers to me, as well as fans of TV Land Network, are nodding in approval)! My first surgical procedure was as a first year ophthalmology resident at Georgetown University Medical Center. My proctor was Dr. Shreiber, an octogenarian ophthalmologist from Yugoslavia. Dr. Shreiber survived the Holocaust era so nothing appeared to faze him – even extraoridinarily green, 1st year residents, attempting to perform at least part of the ancient procedure of intracapsular cataract surgery. In spite of it being perhaps the most terrifying couple of hours of my life, the ability to surgically interact with and improve the life of a patient was a life-changing event.
Who is your ophthalmic mentor/hero?
I have been fortunate in my career to have studied under, worked with and worked for some of the greatest ophthalmologists of our generation. I don’t really have any “heroes” per se. I can tell you who was the most brilliant ophthalmologist with whom I spent any time – Dr. Morton Goldberg. Dr. Goldberg recruited me from the faculty of the University of Southern California to his then department of Ophthalmology at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He was hands-down, other-worldly brilliant and could discuss in depth any topic in ophthalmology, even those far removed from his specialties of retinal diseases and genetic abnormalities in ophthalmology. One day, back in 1987, Dr. Goldberg visited me in my office. At that time, the only “refractive” (vision correction) surgery being practiced was the old Radial Keratotomy technique and I was recruited, in part, to bring these procedures to UIC. He sat down next to me and said (I’m paraphrasing from memory), “Jeff, I’ve heard some rumblings about this new type of laser that has the ability to reshape corneas. Right now, it’s only used to shave off scarred and diseased corneal tissue. One day, I predict, it’ll be used to correct refractive errors (eyeglass prescriptions). And, there’s only one place in the world that’s experimenting with this and it’s in Paris. And I want you to see it personally and tell me if it’s all that” A month later, I was winging my way to Paris to see the first clinical excimer laser – which was only being used to manually shave off scars in corneas. Now, remember, Dr. Goldberg was a retina specialist. I was the supposed cornea and vision correction surgery “specialist”! His mind was so brilliant, curious and active that he was aware of everything that was going on in every specialty of ophthalmology. Dr. Goldberg was soon after recruited to become the chairman at Wilmer Eye Hospital at Johns Hopkins University, the premier academic ophthalmology program in the world. And the little box laser he had me see in Paris to treat the corneal scar in a farmer from Alscace region, well that went on to evolve into the excimer laser that is used worldwide in LASIK and related procedures to correct refractive errors for the elimination of glasses and contact lenses.
Who is your real life mentor/hero?
No doubt, my father. Dr. Philip Robin grew up in a tenement in the Bronx back in the 1930s. None of his family had ever graduated high school let alone college and professional school. With no financial and very little family moral support, Dr. Robin put himself through City College of New York and, even though he had traveled far from the 5 boroughs, Washington University in St. Louis. He eventually went to Pennsylvania College of Optometry in Philadelphia, met my eventual mother, and developed a full and successful family and professional life in the Philly area. My dad was always my greatest supporter and my most realistic critic. I remember giving him a paper I wrote for some class in high school. It was, of course, due the next day. He read it, looked up at me, and – without saying a word – tore the paper up (there were no home shredders back then!). All he said to me was, “You can do better”. And, indeed I did. To this day, I always keep the torn up high school paper in the back of my mind when I’m setting out to complete a task or project. Fortunately, both my mom and dad are still with us and healthy. They live here in the Ft. Myers area and were 2 of the main reasons my wife and I relocated from Orlandto to Ft Myers last year!
If you could have dinner with one person, throughout all of history, who would it be and why?
I’m going to take the liberty of not identifying a single person, but rather selecting a large group (one of those large private dining rooms would suffice) of physicians and physician researchers from well before the era of modern technology. One of the maxims I’ve learned over my career is that any time you think you’ve come up with a new concept or procedures, chances are very good it’s already been done! I’ve always marveled at the physicians, from the physicians to Pharoes in ancient Egypt , to Galen in ancient Rome, to Hippocrates in ancient Greece, to Guy de Chauliac in the throes of the great plague – how did these giants, with basically only their minds, develop such cogent observations and treatment approaches? We practicing physicians today – with our MRIs, CT scans, genetic codes, etc – struggle mightily against the forces of disease. Imagine our predecessors….with only their wits…imagine if they were able to join me and have a glimpse of the technology and new vistas in medical science and care! And, the old guys are making a bit of a comeback! A mainstay of the ancient days – leeches – have found their way back into modern care. Doubtless, the old guys could teach us a thing or two!! Quite a dinner this would be, indeed!!
What superhero would you be and why?
I’ve never been good at the “What kind of tree would you be and why?” questions that seem to be so in vogue these days. I guess the easiest Marvel superhero would be Doctor Strange, but he’s not my favorite. And no ophthalmologist would be attracted to Cyclops! I guess I would have the most affinity for Thor and his “unwavering belief in humanity”, support for the downtrodden, and commitment to protect the innocent. In a way, that’s what we do – especially at a leading eye care institution such as Frantz Eye Care!