5Q With Caroline R. Baumal, MD
Caroline R. Baumal, MD, is an Associate Professor of Ophthalmology at New England Eye Center, Tufts Medical Center, Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, Mass.
Surely you have taught much to your fellows in the past years. What have they taught you during that period?
One of the major benefits of being in an academic center is interacting closely with fellows and residents. Working so closely with fellows continually motivates me to try new things. This really comes into play in the OR, where we demo new operating microscope platforms and instruments and implement new surgical techniques. Fellows provide a fresh perspective on some of the disorders that I see all the time. Constantly having to critically think about how to teach a new set of faces forces me to learn the subtlest nuances of common disorders. I also have the opportunity to see what the fellows have learned from other teachers and at other programs. Perhaps most importantly, fellows have taught me a lot about patience, compassion, camaraderie, and keeping a sense of humor.
To whom do you turn for advice when you encounter a difficult clinical case?
I am very fortunate to work in Boston with amazing colleagues and cutting-edge medical care. We are a team of eight retina specialists at New England Eye Center. I have worked with Jay Duker, MD, and Elias Reichel, MD, for 20 years—hard to believe it has been that long! We often share complicated cases and make ourselves available to each other to review images or complex surgical plans. As a retina specialist who also sees pediatric retina cases, it is incredibly helpful to have direct access to an ocular oncologist, a neuro-ophthalmologist, and a pediatric ophthalmologist. I stay in touch with my mentors—to name a few, Carol Shields, MD; Alex Levin, MD; and Jose Pulido, MD, all of whom I am now lucky enough to also call my friends. I know they are always available for input and that they like to catch up with me personally and hear about interesting cases. I try to save my hardest cases for the Atlantic Coast Retina Conference, where the audience is comprised of experts from all over the country who enjoy a good challenge!
What are some wise habits to practice the evening before a day in the OR?
It is a good idea to review patient charts, images, and surgical planning the day before surgery. I have done this since my fellowship and it helps me avoid delays in the OR on the morning of surgery. I have three small boys, and I prepare everything they need for the next day the night before so that the morning runs as smoothly as possible when I am trying to get out the door. Lastly, a good night’s sleep is essential in order to be well rested and to stay calm and cool in the event of any unexpected scenarios that may occur during surgery.
What forthcoming innovation in retina most excites you?
This has been such an exciting time to be in our field. Ten years ago, anti-VEGF agents permanently changed our approach to retinal diseases. Now there is a drive to go beyond—to improve visual results with less treatment burden. I am most excited about research methodologies that will lead to more targeted and sophisticated approaches to managing retinal diseases. This includes gene therapy, which can be tailored to treat a specific disease-inducing defect. Gene therapy may also provide sustained therapeutic benefit via continual expression of a desired protein. Also, coming from my background at the New England Eye Center, I am always excited about novel retinal imaging techniques. The next phase in imaging may serve to combine functional tests such as blood flow and oxygenation with structural optical coherence tomography, which may further our understanding of disease pathogenesis and aid in monitoring response to therapeutics.
What do you do when you need a break from retina?
I am not very good at taking breaks, but when I’m not working, my favorite pastime is spending time with my three little overactive boys: Miles, Ike, and Louie. When I need a break from that, I practice some well-needed yoga. It can be challenging to find balance in our busy lifestyle with surgery, research, meetings, and family, but it is important to find a way to take care of oneself, breathe, and relax.