Was one of your New Years resolutions to sit down and write a list of goals for your career and your life?

Louise Sclafani, O.D., is the kind of person who actually has a written list of personal and professional goals. Not only that, Dr. Sclafanithe first optometrist appointed to the ophthalmology department at the University of Chicago Medical Centeris the kind of person who achieves them.

This second installment of our Profiles in Excellence series takes a random glance at a few of this ambitious optometrists goals to learn how any doctor can have it all (or nearly so).

Goal #3: Get Involved
Louise Sclafani, as a college student in the early 80s, decided on her career one eventful afternoon when working at the local Sears. Her co-worker, Doris, was riding the escalator when a light bulb shattered, scattering glass. Some went into Doris eye.

The optometrist in the optical department didnt want to touch her. (This was in the days before therapeutics.) But Dr. Sclafani pried open Doris eye and carefully fished out the glass.

The way she looked at me, how grateful she was, that prompted me to want to do something with vision, Dr. Sclafani says.

In her junior year of college, she applied to Illinois College of Optometry. Once there, she was class representative for three years, and realized the importance for optometrists to be politically involved in their profession.

After graduation, Dr. Sclafani had her pick of three options: a residency at ICO, a position at a large successful practice in the Chicago area, or a commission with the Navy. Although the opportunity to travel appealed to her, she turned the Navy down for several reasons, not the least of which was the unappealing Navy shoes. If somebody could tell me what kind of shoes I could wear, they could tell me a little bit too much about what I had to do in life, she jokes.

Fortunately, she was able to balance out the residency with a part-time position with the practice. She recommends a residency for any new grad. Its like five years of experience in one year. Its also a confidence-builder; the patient looks to you now as a doctor, not a student.

Thats the type of challenge Dr. Sclafani enjoys. Id rather get involved than just sit on the sidelines. I get very frustrated sitting on the sidelines, she says.

Goal #5: Be Determined
In the first few years after her residency, Dr. Sclafani worked at several different practices. She enjoyed the work, but she knew there was something else out there for her. Then she heard about the position at the University of Chicago Medical Center.

It sounded exactly like what I wanted to do: I wanted to be able to see patients but to also enjoy teaching, she says. If I was in such a setting, I would be constantly learning from all these specialists, yet I would also have something unique that I could contribute.

The hospital administration was not as enthusiastic, although department chairman Terry Ernest, M.D., was. It took two years (along with several interviews and a couple of lectures) for the earnest Dr. Ernest to be able to hire Dr. Sclafani as an attending with an academic appointment. She was recently promoted to associate professor. 

Goal #8: Be a Good Lecturer
While Dr. Sclafani was busy getting her new program off the ground, she accomplished two other goals: to be a fellow, and then a diplomate, of the American Academy of Optometry.

Besides those achievements, she had a long-term goal of becoming a continuing education lecturer. So she and a private ophthalmologist started offering courses. This eventually led Dr. Sclafani to join the cruise ship lecture circuit (which helps satisfy her other goal of traveling the world, see #11).

The best advice on lecturing came from her husband, Jeff McClimans, who dropped in on one of her courses.

My God, you are boring! he said.

That was the best thing he could have said to me, Dr. Sclafani laughs. It prompted her to loosen up, to move out from behind the podium, and to speak more extemporaneously instead of reading directly from her notes.

Goal #11: Travel More
Dr. Sclafani has the traveling bug. When she took a semester in Rome during her senior year in college, Ken Hyde, O.D., (then the associate dean at ICO) had been concerned that she wouldnt come back to go to optometry school.
The bug is still biting: Dr. Sclafani has not only made a few trips to Italy, but to Greece, Spain, Morocco, the Caribbean, Australia and New Zealand, to name a few. During one cruise seminar, she spent an anxious daySeptember 11, 2001in Istanbul, Turkey.

Goal #7: Unite O.D.s & M.D.s
Dr. Sclafani acknowledges that part of the reason that she was hired at the University of Chicago was to bridge the gap between optometrists and ophthalmologists.

A point of pride for her is the tight relationship that now exists between ICO and UC, thanks in a large part to her diplomacy especially during the initial phases. Specialists from each institution go back and forth to teach and practice. Ophthalmology students and optometry externs go back and forth to learn.

Goal #2: Have a Family
Dr. Sclafani says that her greatest achievement (to date) was when she had her baby, Liam Louis, nearly six months ago. He puts things into perspective, she says.

But even during her pregnancy, Dr. Sclafani didnt slow down. After she completed her patient care, she continued to stay late at work (often until 10 p.m.) to work on other activities as a trustee on the IOA, a state board member, and a council member to the Cornea and Contact Lens Section of the AOA. She wound up in the emergency room twice for dehydration.

Now, shes able to leave her work behind when she goes home.

As a woman optometrist, I can say this: You can do it all Ive seen it done very well in both ways: either having kids and going back to your profession, or working on your profession first and then having kids.

Women optometrists have a unique advantage, she says. People of all stripes get into optometry because the profession allows time for the doctor to really communicate with the patient. But patients just seem to open up more to women doctors, Dr. Sclafani says. Thats a benefit for women in optometry.
Being a woman can open doors, she says. Then you have to prove yourself.

Goal #12: Seize the Day
In December 2000, her brother-in-law, Louis Poulos, M.D., an emergency medicine doctor, died of lung cancer. He kept working until three days before he died.

He really had a love for life and he tried to pack each day with so much activity. I think that really inspired me, she says.

Lou made her realize that, while its important to strive to achieve long-term goals, its also important to live each day in the moment. Its a message her husband now reminds her: Enjoy the journey.

Still, Dr. Sclafanis list includes a few more goals she aims to accomplish: to compete in a mini-triathlon this summer; to improve her Italian; to play jazz piano. Its unlikely that shell find herself sitting on the sidelines any time soon. 

Vol. No: 140:02Issue: 2/15/03