Doug, we’ve known each other a long time. I remember meeting you at St. Luke’s Roosevelt hospital when I was a 4th year medical student and you were the chief resident in ophthalmology. That was way back in 2001.
One thing of the many things that impresses me about you is your ability to adapt and change and evolve. Prior to your ophthalmology training, you were board certified in internal medicine.
Q) What made you decide to leave internal medicine and pursue ophthalmology? How did you summon the courage to endure another residency?
A) During my first year of internal medicine residency, I spent weeks at time on “night float”. It was a horribly lonely experience. Night float was the catalyst. One of my close friends, reported back much less lonely conditions in ophthalmology. So, I began to investigate making a change in that direction.
Q) Well, it takes guts to make a career change–so props to you for doing that. Speaking of guts, if I remember correctly you worked as a pilot, and an aviation instructor, prior to your medical training. Is it fair to say that you’re a bit of an adrenaline junkie? What would you say evokes more fear: flying through rough air at 30,000 feet or unexpected “turbulence” during cataract surgery?
A) I’m actually not a bungee jumper and I’ve never jumped out of an airplane. So, I’m not sure I qualify as a pure adrenaline junkie—like the character Bodie in the movie Point Break. As far as what provokes more fear, flying or cataract surgery, that’s a tough call. Learning to do an instrument landing in bad weather at night is really challenging. But then again, learning cataract surgery is no easy feat, either. Sight is precious, but the stakes are not quite as high as an airplane falling out of the sky. So, I would say that landing an airplane with poor visibility at night is more petrifying—if you really must know.
Q) And now you’re the lead guitarist in a touring rock band. I’m detecting a neurochemical pattern here. Are you familiar with Clodiger’s Temperament and Personality inventory? Where he suggested that temperament can be divided into harm avoidance, novelty seeking, reward dependence and persistence. According to Clodiger’s model, a pilot turned cataract surgeon turned lead guitarist would probably possess high levels of dopamine, low serotonin and moderate levels of norepinephrine. But I digress, tell us about when you picked up a guitar?
A) I think it was at the end of college and before flight school. I was hooked right away.
Q) How did your band form? Are the other members of the group in healthcare?
A) It was patched together through a series of random introductions. Tragically, our lead singer died about a year after the band formed. In a strange twist of fate, his girlfriend became our current lead vocalist. I’m actually the only healthcare professional in the group.
Q) How does playing music differ from practicing medicine? Can you compare and contrast?
A) I feel like the cliché about using a different part of the brain for creative work is really true. I feel like when I play music, I use a totally different part of my brain than when I’m in the clinic. Doing surgery though, there is some overlap there with playing music. Both are very tactile and engrossing.
Q) Many people have a hard time with change. You’ve reinvented yourself so many times. How do you decide when it’s time to move on? Can you give some advice as to how you go about making major life changes?
A) I think that boredom might have something to do with it. Or maybe an underlying feeling of not being satisfied or happy. I don’t like to linger in that state for too long.
Q) What character trait impresses you most in other people?
A) Leadership – hands down.
Dr Friedrich is an ophthalmologist and musician in NY, NY.
Interview conducted by Eric Dessner MD.