You’ve stated that when you discovered ophthalmology, it felt like home. Why is that?
One of the biggest influences in my life was my father. He was a professional photographer, so I grew up with optics and lingo like diopters, iris, and focus. Ophthalmology spoke the same language to me because photography is, of course, all about the visual. When my dad learned I wanted to go into ophthalmology he was thrilled. He was a perfectionist in his work, but also an extraordinary artist. I’ve tried to emulate those qualities, which are not only terrific for a photographer but are also vital for a surgeon. Our surgical efforts must be perfect, but there certainly is an art to what we do. My dad would have made a great eye doctor.
Describe your interest in surgical instrument development.
As a kid, I loved to take toys apart to see how things worked and to think of ways to make them better. My first patent in the early 1990s was for vibrating intraocular scissors. The idea came during my fellowship and was based on a toy I had as a child called Snippy. Snippy was a plastic fish with vibrating jaws, but tremendous shear. The science behind the toy lent itself perfectly to the retinal surface. I also teach my residents and fellows how critical it is to thoroughly know your instruments and the science behind them. This principle not only fueled my interest in making instruments better, but also made me a better surgeon. To this day, I still try to scientifically understand every tool I use.
Which professional accomplishment are you most proud of?
Although my role as a teacher to my residents and fellows is probably the most personally rewarding, the accomplishment I’m proudest of is my involvement for 20 years on the board of the American Society of Retina Specialists (ASRS). Founded as the Vitreous Society, it was the only truly open society for retina. I viewed this as a great opportunity to help make it representative for all—an organization that does all things retina. I brokered the name change to ASRS and started the PAT Survey, Film Festival, and Retina Times. In recognition of this, at the 2019 annual meeting the board established the Packo Award, which recognizes exceptional contributions to the ASRS and our field. This is an overwhelming honor for me and my family. To think that, 100 years from now, someone will be honored with the Packo Award is mind-boggling. Whatever that person has accomplished to deserve the award, I hope he or she is as proud of the honor as the guy behind the name.
As a prolific and in-demand public speaker, what advice do you give to novice speakers?
Remember, you’re on stage. Make it memorable, make it visually exciting, not just a boring sea of numbers and text. Also, don’t try to give too much information at once—keep it moving and keep it entertaining. Put a smile on audience members’ faces while you teach them something, and have fun.
How would your colleagues describe you?
Most people describe me as creative, a bit of a workaholic, and someone who gives great presentations. The creativity came from my father and the fact that I was a drama major in college. I actually studied acting in New York and planned to do that for a living. My acting and directing days served as a great backbone to my life as a teacher and public speaker. Seeing patients is similar to improv, in that listening and reacting, not just speaking, are all important. Doctors need to do the same. Listening to your patients and working with their comments is key.