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Professor Nitin Verma shares his thoughts on work life balance

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What inspired you to pursue a career in ophthalmology?
During my rotation in ophthalmology when I was a fourth-year medical student, I decided this is what I wanted to do. What inspired me to pursue ophthalmology was the exactness of the speciality – everyone else was talking in inches and feet, centimeters and meters yet ophthalmologists were talking in microns and millimeters.
The other thing I liked about ophthalmology was the fact that, unlike other departments and branches where you needed a big team to work, an ophthalmologist could quite easily be the physician, the anesthetist, the surgeon or the refractionist, because we are trained to do all of this.

What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced when it comes to getting to where you are now in ophthalmology? What have you personally had to overcome?
I think the major difference is in the training. When I was a registrar, we were all trained to be general ophthalmologists. We were able to do cataract surgery, corneal surgery, plastic surgery and so on. Once you finished your six years of training one could then go and train towards a subspecialty. In our exam, we had to operate as part of the exam. This is not done anywhere now. The challenge really has been that everything has developed so much that the learning never “ended”. For us, everything changed rather rapidly from 1980 to now and so much new stuff came out that you either kept pace with it or you got left behind.

How did you keep up with all the changes?
I think the first thing is to be interested in what’s going on. When the College talks about CPD and so on, it is extremely relevant. Back then, it wasn’t so formalized. One went to conferences to learn. Before starting a new procedure, you would have to find someone to be trained by and be guided through the process. One surgeon who helped train me was in Germany and I was in India, he would post me his videos and books for me to learn from. I knew his video off by heart. The day before carrying out for the fist time, I often couldn’t sleep because I would be revisiting it in my mind. Today that is not needed because there are so many people to teach you. Now when someone asks me for advice I am so willing to give it because nothing belongs to me. Someone taught me so I am happy to teach someone who wants to learn.

How do you balance work, life, research and learning?
There is a lot to fit into my day and I do what I enjoy but the problem is I am interested in a lot of stuff. Besides my profession (which always comes first) I have commitments with the College and several other organizations – but they are all connected to ophthalmology. Because everything is a spin off from ophthalmology, it makes it easier for me to translate my skills and transfer my contacts and experience into any of these directions.

How do you balance the world of ophthalmology with your personal life; your family and friends?
I am not sure that I have a good work life balance, but I must say that I have an acceptable work life balance in that my family accepts it. I think that it is perhaps because I have an understanding wife and, while I was doing my ophthalmology, she was doing her engineering and studying and working was something that we both grew into together. We didn’t know it any other way. I would study for my exams and she would be doing the same when she was writing her PhD, and we were just busy all the time. It has worked for me because my family is involved in everything that I do, and I am involved in some things that they do.

Do you think medicine is more accommodating now than when you started out?
Yes - we didn’t have so much maternity leave –in our time things were not so generous back then. There was no such thing as paternity leave. We didn’t really have baby sitters either – the only way we could get a baby sitter was if we left the baby with our parents, a relative or friend. But friendships don’t last too long if you keep leaving your baby with them. But now the system makes allowances and I think it has really brought attention to proper work life balance. I see that in my children and their partners who share the responsibility of parenting with each other more than what we used to. Things have now changed for the better.

Do you ever experience feeling stressed? How do you deal with it?
It is about getting things done rather than doing everything yourself. You need to be able to delegate. In this whole sphere of activities, the only way you can delegate is if you surround yourself with like-minded people. You need to link with people who find the kind of stuff you do interesting and who will help you. A lot of my work is really having ideas and discussing with people how to move the cause forward. I know what is going on and I help out where needed but I do not do everything myself. I make sure to create a team who will help get things done. If you have the right network then you have a better chance of being able to delegate appropriately. Sure, there is stress and you have difficulties but, in general, if you are surrounded by people you trust you can share the achievements with them and also share the stress.

When you are working with registrars, what advice do you give them in dealing with stress?
I think the main thing to reduce stress is to communicate. You will know yourself that sometimes you work yourself up when things are not going right – the relief you get by discussing it with someone is often enough to bring you back to a level where you are not agitated and not angry. I think the major problems come when there is not enough good, clear communication. It is important to talk and let people know that you are on their side. Once you have that link, everyone’s stress levels go down.