Why Did I Choose Ophthalmology?

Exerpt Taken from Thomas Harvey's Ophthalmology Residency Application Personal Statement
(circa 1999)

Over the roar of giant buses and screaming peddlers on Avenida Ahumada, I could not believe what I was hearing. I asked my Chilean friend, “Are you telling me that they could have normal vision if they just had some money?” He sheepishly nodded, almost embarrassed by my disbelief. The street people of Santiago are ignored by the local ophthalmologists because they already have plenty of wealthy patients. “These eye doctors have a monopoly,” he said. “If that guy over there with the white cane had money or a better form of insurance, his cataract would be out. He would be like you or me.”

The above scene was only a brief moment in my study abroad experience in 1994, but it left me dumbstruck. Coming from a country where health care is so much more accessible, I was forced to reflect on my own situation. “How can I be this privileged when there are so many unfortunate people out there?”

This question was perplexing enough to make me consider my entire life and the direction it was taking. I liked who I was, but was I doing enough for others? It was then that the true importance of my stay in Chile became evident. I had always loved the idea of providing eye care, just as my grandfather did, but the overwhelming demand around me was all that I needed to make my choice final. I promised myself that I would some day become an ophthalmologist.

Yes, this experience was my calling to ophthalmology, but it also gave me insight into the kind of doctor that I plan to become. Simply stated, I want to be the type of physician who will always provide the best care possible. Why do I think I am capable of achieving this goal?

I am a communicator. I believe my greatest attribute is my ability to communicate. I pride myself on the high level of camaraderie and rapport that I have with patients. Listening is all-important, not only for arriving at the correct diagnosis, but also in gaining a patient’s trust. In addition to bedside conversation, I also enjoy speaking publicly. Finally, my fluency in Spanish will allow me to directly serve a multicultural population.

I am an advocate. My first priority is always the proper care of the patient. It is a doctor’s duty to provide optimum care and to act in a patient’s best interest, regardless of the situation. I am committed to carrying out this duty for my future patients.

I am a team player. From my earliest experience in grade school basketball to my success on the wards today, the importance of cooperation is very evident to me. As a resident, I expect that I will have many responsibilities and will also have to “cover” for my colleagues during busy times. I welcome the challenge and look forward to being a part of an eye care team.

I am a learner. I strive for continual growth of knowledge and improvement of performance. I will be a lifelong student of medicine and the workings of the eye. I look forward to the opportunity to direct my learning in the form of research, which will hopefully continue long after residency.

I believe that a qualified ophthalmology resident should be all of the above and even more. The great chairside and operating room responsibility required for the job make anything less unacceptable. I respect the importance of the position and the hard work that it entails.

The sobering reality of what I saw abroad five years ago will continue to motivate me to stay true to my ideals. If residency ever becomes frustrating or discouraging, I will use that motivation to help myself remember what first brought me to ophthalmology. I plan to look back at my training as the means by which I became the doctor of integrity and character that I envisioned. Owning a license to practice medicine is one thing; being a respected physician is another.

I choose the latter.

Dr. Thomas Harvey and Lions Eye Bank of Wisconsin

Dr. Thomas Harvey and Lions Eye Bank of Wisconsin team up to help people in Vietnam receive the eye care they need.



Dr. Harvey and his staff are outstanding. Their attention to me as a person and not just a patient made all of the difference. Both of my procedures went very well and just as important I always felt like someone was there to support me. I was very satisfied with the level of care I received from Dr. Harvey and his staff.


Menomonie, WI