How a Mid-Career Fellowship Changed One Ophthalmologist's Perspective

American Board of Ophthalmology Director Jane Bailey, MD, enjoyed a comfortable life in Nebraska with an active family and a busy private practice. But after 21 years, she longed for a new professional challenge: to experience the work she loved in a whole different way. So, in 2017, at the age of 51, she left her successful practice behind, packed her bags, and moved her family 250 miles to enroll in a neuro-ophthalmology fellowship training program at the University of Iowa.

Now a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at the University of Iowa, Dr. Bailey details her unique journey from private practitioner to fellowship-trained neuro-ophthalmologist in the latest issue of JAMA in a guest feature for "A Piece of My Mind."

In the piece, Dr. Bailey explains that the trip to Iowa was a homecoming of sorts. She was returning to campus after completing her ophthalmology residency training there two decades prior. But in the intervening years, things had changed--and so had she. “As the post-training years passed, evenings and weekends were increasingly subsumed with parenting, housework, and volunteering,” she writes. “As the flow of medical knowledge was expanding, I was distracted by life, barely dipping a toe in each year.”

This shift in her life and learning habits meant that during her second stint a trainee, a few things were different:

"For better or worse, I was learning with a 50-year-old brain instead of the 30-year-old brain I had during residency. On average, memory and verbal fluency decline after 40. However, with middle age comes stronger moral decision-making and emotional regulation, as well as enhanced ability to read social situations. I often benefitted from approaching my training more like an anthropologist doing fieldwork than a trainee doing scut work."

Throughout her time in the challenging program, she alternated between feelings of accomplishment and feeling like she was “driving on the interstate in a downpour and [her] windshield wipers were not keeping up.” And, though she cautions that her decision is not for every physician, "logistically, financially, [or] temperamentally," Dr. Bailey is confident that it was the right move for her. She affirms that, “going back to school in midlife can be a powerful antidote to the complacency and ennui that seeps in over the years.”

To read more about Dr. Bailey’s experience, read "Taking a Dive" in the October 23/30 edition of JAMA. You can also discuss the piece with her in person at the ABO’s AAO 2018 Learning Lounge on Monday, October 29 at 3:30 PM.

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