Ophthalmology Interview with Shanika Esparaz MD

WHY DID YOU GO INTO MEDICINE? 

 

I've wanted to be a doctor for as long as I remember. I wanted to go into medicine to create a long lasting and positive impact on someone else's life. When I saw my first cataract surgery, I knew instantly that I wanted to dedicate my career to saving and improving vision.

 

WHAT IS A PASSION PROJECT OF YOURS?

 

I am passionate about a showing the real "behind the scenes" look into life in medicine. I especially want to uplift and empower young girls and other women to see that they can be a wife, mother, and surgeon while having a fulfilling life. That is why I started my professional instagram account @shani_eye_md. I recently started an account with my husband who is also in medicine. He is an interventional radiologist, and together we have created @xennialmds to bring awareness to how millennial and generation x doctors are approaching medicine and making it work for their lifestyle!

 

WHAT AWARENESS CAMPAIGN IS MOST PERSONAL TO YOU TO SUPPORT & WHY?

 

I'm passionate about several awareness campaigns. Most recently, #physiciansforblacklives, as I think the current social justice movement is bringing to light how systemic racism is ingrained in our country. I believe racism is a public health issue and as doctors we must address it.

 

WHAT ARE 2 FUN FACTS ABOUT YOURSELF?

 

I'm a first generation American- my family is from Sri Lanka! I'm a sucker for cookie dough, chocolate, and anything breakfast related.

 

WHO IS THE MOST INFLUENTIAL PERSON IN YOUR CAREER OR LIFE & WHY?     

 

My mother, hands down. My mother is a family medicine physician. When she came to America she had to repeat all her training to be credentialed (residency). She then went on to open her own solo practice for 26 years! In an era (90's), she showed that you could be a female business owner, wife, mother, and doctor. She brought her patient charts to our after-school activities and always made sure to have fruit roll ups and dunkaroos.

 

In my own path in medicine there have been times I've wanted to give up. Even when I became a mother, my whole world and identity was rocked- in a scary and beautiful way. She pushed me to continue to be a doctor and I'm so grateful. You can be more than one thing in life- being a mother doesn't define you, it's apart of you and your life.

 

WHAT IS THE BEST PIECE OF ADVICE YOU CAN GIVE TO FUTURE MDS?

 

See any failures as stepping stones to success. I had C's on my undergrad transcript. I did poorly on my MCATs (twice!). I didn't go to a highly ranked medical school, but it was the best fit for me. I still matched into a competitive specialty with grit, determination, and perseverance.

 

What the audience will be experiencing by watching your takeover:           I'll take you through my day from start to finish! I'll be in clinic but will also have some procedures and can show you around the eye clinic. I will also chat about macular degeneration- the most common eye disease I see.

 

HOW HAS THIS PANDEMIC AFFECTED YOU?

 

I've definitely struggled with my mental health during the pandemic. I've never experienced anxiety before and during the first few weeks of the pandemic I went through bouts of fear- fear of contracting covid (Ophthalmologists are high risk given our close face to face contact during a slit lamp exam). It took perspective, talking to friends and family to validate my emotions and be okay with fear and the unknown. I started taking one day at a time. Started focusing on what I could control. I stopped reading the news every minute. I saw my life in a completely different perspective and practiced more gratitude. I'm mentally in a much better place now!

 

HOW HAS THIS PANDEMIC AFFECTED YOUR FAMILY?        

 

As a dual physician family, our biggest worry is bringing anything home from work as we have an infant (9 months) and toddler. We took on more of our own child care as we distanced from my parents. We took on more household responsibilities (cleaning and cooking).

 

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE MOST DRASTIC CHANGES YOU'VE EXPERIENCED?       

 

The biggest change has been my toddler's limited activities. But also, this feeling of not being able to go anywhere! We've learned to be more "outdoorsy" and as the weather has gotten better we have enjoyed the simplicity and beauty of nature.

 

WHAT HAVE BEEN SOME OF YOUR MOST TRYING DAYS DUE TO THIS CRISIS AND WHY?          

 

One day my toddler said, "Mommy, I'm afraid of you going to work." I asked her "why?". She responded, "I'm scared of the infection and that you won't come home". This broke my heart. Living through a pandemic is a lot for all of us to handle but I never realized how much it was affecting my toddler. Mental health has certainly taken a toll on all of us- oscillating between the fear of contracting COVID, keeping our family safe, and trying to keep a sense of normalcy for a toddler who can't see her friends or her typical activities of childhood.

 

HOW HAVE YOU BEEN COPING?      

 

We have spent more time as a family- even eating more meals together! We pray together as a family and have practiced more gratitude. There is a silver lining and a bright side to any challenge in life. I believe we all as individuals, as families and as communities will come out stronger because of it.

 

HOW HAVE YOU NEEDED TO PIVOT IN YOUR PRACTICE BECAUSE OF COVID19?  

 

Fortunately, my practice has stayed afloat during this time. Eye care is essential and we were slow for a few weeks only seeing emergencies but now our practice is back up to speed. We have implemented several COVID-19 precautions to safely social distance and disinfect between patients while providing high quality eye care and surgery.

 

HOW HAVE YOU UTILIZED TELEMEDICINE WITH YOUR PATIENTS? HOW HAVE THEY RESPONDED TO THE CHANGE?   

 

We utilized telemedicine for several weeks. It is hard to do an eye exam over the phone so it was for limited eye concerns. We mostly used it for patients who were concerned about conjunctivitis or who had symptoms of a potential viral infection. That way we could still address their concerns while decreasing the risk of viral spread in the office.

 

WILL YOU CONTINUE USING TELEMEDICINE AS PRACTICES BEGIN TO REOPEN? 

 

We still offer telemedicine but much prefer to see patients in person as it makes for a much better eye exam! We are confident that our safety protocols in place are creating a safe and efficient environment to provide the highest quality eye care and eye surgery.

 

HOW HAS THE BLM MOVEMENT AFFECTED YOU, BOTH PERSONALLY AND PROFESSIONALLY?  

 

The BLM movement has opened my eyes to my shortcomings as a physician, mother and participant in my community. To be neutral allows injustice to persist. We must be actively anti-racist and to reflect on our own privilege. Until the last few weeks I didn't realize I wasn't doing my part.

 

WHAT DO YOU HOPE FOR IN TERMS OF CHANGE RELATED TO BLM?       

 

I've started to use my platform to amplify other's voices, to share anti-racist resources, and to show how I am bringing the conversation of race and diversity to my children.

 

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE MEDELITA PRODUCT & WHY?      

 

That's a tough question! I love my rebecca slim fit white coat (I wear a size 2). It is the only white coat that fits my petite stature like a glove. Even when I was pregnant it fit well! I've also been wearing my medelita scrub jacket a lot recently as it is easier to wash more frequently during COVID.

 

For more information, be sure to follow Dr. Shanika @shani_eye_md

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