Dr. Mark Blecher is one of the nation’s leading cataract surgeons. Born and raised in New York, Dr. Blecher attended Brandeis University and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. After his residency at Wills Eye Hospital, Dr. Blecher in 1986 joined Philadelphia Eye Associates. Currently, he is co-director of the cataract department at Wills Eye Hospital, senior medical editor of the Review of Ophthalmology, and medical director of MDOffice, an electronic medical records company. He recently talked to Visionaries about his practice and pursuits.
What first got you interested in eye care?
I sort of fell into ophthalmology. A family friend who was an ophthalmologist told me to look into it when I was medical school and I did and I loved it. There was a lot about it once I was in it that appealed to me, but what drove me into it was just that recommendation.
There are a lot of elements of ophthalmology that suit my personality. I love surgery, and ophthalmology has a lot of surgery. I am a detail-oriented person – not a hammer and chisel kind of guy. This is a field where much of what you do is visual, and a lot of it is about performance, which are two things I find gratifying. I am a perfectionist, and I think to a certain degree you will find that successful optometrists are obsessive-compulsive.
What does it take to succeed in this industry?
You have to have a real passion for what you do and want to do it a lot. Many of the elements that make you successful in this field are in your personality. You don’t see people once and then send them into the world. Your personality has to resonate with your patients. I have been in practice for 30 years and developed a real relationship, a very longitudinal relationship with people, and you can’t do that if you are not personable and cannot develop a rapport among patients.
Are there things you encounter daily now which you could not have imagined when you were in medical school?
Well obviously the technology. Optometry has always been very toy-heavy and in that way it mirrors society. The amount of technology is just astounding in terms of the advancements and potential in technology – it is much more than I thought and I am a big techie.
But there is also more basic science and math, even at this stage, than I ever thought. You think that it would be very warm and fuzzy, that people would go into surgery and you would hold their hand and it would be great. But I find that you really need to know a lot of the higher-order math and physics.
What is your best management tool?
This does not have a lot to do with ophthalmology, but instead it is basic Business 101. I am a managing partner of a practice with 38 employees, and tonight is our employee Christmas party and I have not written my annual speech yet. There is a lot of that in ophthalmology but you are not taught those things in medical school – you are not taught how to be a good practice manager. A lot of physicians are really not that good at it. You have to notice people, give them a clear expectation, provide appropriate awards and evaluations, and follow up with them.
What do you recommend to new physicians or people about to graduate?
The whole employment situation is changing rapidly, and the old model of being in a private practice is disappearing. Practices are being consolidated into big networks, and a lot of physicians graduating today don’t want to take that path anyway. They may have a lot of debt and need to start earning money right away and are not concerned about buying a practice.
What would you say that new graduates really need to understand?
They have to understand that they are going into a marketplace that is changing underneath them. If they go in thinking that there is a well-established path of doing this then they are going to be disappointed. They are going to find that a lot of employment opportunities are in flux. It will require some forbearance on their part and unfortunately I don’t think any of these millennials have forbearance.
“What I love about cataract surgery is that we make people happy and do it with minimal to no pain or discomfort. In a very rapid period of time we can restore vision and make people happy and no one dies.”
What is your favorite eye problem to treat?
Cataracts. I am the chief of cataract surgery at my hospital, and what I love about cataract surgery is that we make people happy and do it with minimal to no pain or discomfort. In a very rapid period of time, we can restore vision and make people happy and no one dies. It is an elegant operation and it is an extremely precise and gratifying operation to perform. It is the perfect operation that you will never perform perfectly. It is like a carrot always hanging right outside of your reach.
How do you influence people?
I tell them what to do and what to think. That is one of the prerogatives of being chief of surgery. By doing what I do, people see that I am right and making good decisions and that my procedures bear out to be correct. Those results influence people, especially in the surgical field. A surgeon products results, and if the product is good then people pay attention.
Where do you turn to for fresh solutions?
There is so much out there it is tough to sort through. I don’t have a lot of time to do a lot of that stuff, which is one of the reasons why practices are consolidating and getting bigger: physicians don’t have a lot of time to gather that information and do it themselves – they need a professional to do that, and at a smaller practice they don’t have the resources to do that.
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Dr. Blecher on Teaching
“Teaching will be my legacy. I have taught more cataract surgeons than anyone else in the country. It really is great to see someone master a skill – and in that way it is sort of an old-fashioned concept. Old tradespeople felt [the] same way – woodworkers and barbers teach something that you do with your hands. You show people how to do it, and when you see them start to get it, it is really gratifying. I remember back when I was a counselor in summer camp and I was teaching a younger kid how to swim. Finally, one day I put him into the water and he got it and he was ecstatic. It was amazing to transfer that concept and see someone get it. There is that element in teaching, especially the physical concept as opposed to the theoretical, and to get to see the results of those efforts and see it executed right in front of you is amazing.”