Although ophthalmology still largely remains a man’s world, women have been gaining ground in the past decades. Diversity in ophthalmology, not just in gender, but also in race and ethnicity, is encouraged and promoted to reduce disparities in eye care.
To truly advocate and empower diversity in ophthalmology, Ophthalmic Women Leaders (OWL) – a non-profit organization for the professional development and advancement of men and women in the eye care industry – has been recently renamed as Ophthalmic World Leaders. OWL aims to promote and develop diverse leadership to advance ophthalmic innovation and patient care.
OWL hosted its annual Signature Events and Awards ceremony at the recent American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) 2018 annual meeting, in conjunction with the Pan-American Association of Ophthalmology (PAAO), at McCormick Place, Chicago, USA. In a session on perspectives in international leadership, Dr. Aylin Kilic, a refractive and cataract surgeon and associate professor of ophthalmology at Medipol University in Istanbul, Turkey, shared her experiences as a woman ophthalmologist in a largely male-dominated industry.
Taking Chances, Breaking Barriers
To move forward, and to grow personally and professionally, all it often takes is effort and ability. Sometimes, all it takes is to say ‘yes’ to an opportunity to do something different.
According to Dr. Kilic, to be a good clinician, education is very important. “However, if you take a risk, you will learn from experience,” she shared.
After she graduated from Hacettepe University, Turkey, in 1998, Dr. Kilic decided to pursue her residency at a private eye clinic instead of a government hospital, as suggested by her family – because, according to her, there she would have the chance to familiarize herself with the latest technology. And she was right.
After 10 years, she moved to another state, another risky decision because she had to leave all her cases behind. She started from scratch all over again and began seeing new patients. Two years later, she joined the university so that she could share her knowledge and experiences with a new generation of ophthalmology students.
Dr. Killic is a shining example of someone who pursues her passion – a trait that’s essential for a clinician and researcher.
As in every industry, it’s important to keep a balance between the relationships with companies and the obligations to patients. And Dr. Kilic has learned early on to draw a clear line between them. “We should always strive to be positive and honest. If I say something negative, it is because it is necessary to support the industry. But I will say it in a good way. Open discussions are healthy and beneficial for the industry,” added Dr. Kilic.
The Right Focus Can Make All the Difference
Dr. Kilic, who has completed more than 55,000 procedures, certainly knows a thing or two about focus. Whether she is working in Turkey or with the International Society of Surgery, there are times she is so focused on what she’s doing that she doesn’t realize she’s the only woman in the group. “Sometimes, I don’t notice that I’m the only woman in the group, until I see the group photos. I think there is really no difference,” she shared.
Her candid sharing was greeted with cheers from among the audience. With her focus solely on work, and not on her gender, in a largely male-dominated area of expertise in her country, Dr. Kilic was able to achieve phenomenal professional growth and success.
“In my center, I had a good data pool, and I was able to analyze this data and publish papers. Working in a private center made it easier for me to manage the data,” she said, adding that she has also educated her staff to record data from patients.
She added that most of the time, people were expecting a Turkish man as the author of the papers she wrote, and they were surprised to learn that she’s a woman. Dr. Kilic has since published many articles and delivered more than 200 presentations, both nationally and internationally.
“They had to choose someone from Turkey. With my published papers and experience, I was selected. Maybe that’s why I didn’t feel different as a woman,” added Dr. Kilic.
Dr. Kilic has published multiple books, and has garnered multiple awards, including the Achievement Award from the AAO in 2010, Lans Award in 2016, ISRS Recognition Award in 2017, and the Senior Achievement Award in 2018.
Editor’s Note: The Ophthalmic World Leaders (OWL) Signature Event and Awards Ceremony at the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) was held on October 28, 2018, in Chicago, Illinois. Reporting for this story also took place at the AAO 2018.