This month in our “Meet the Doctors” series we get to know Dr. James Paauw. Dr. Paauw specializes in glaucoma and cataract surgery. He earned his medical degree from the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor, MI with distinction in research. Then, he completed a general surgery internship and ophthalmology residency through Texas A&M in Temple, TX. During this time he served as co-editor of Career Physician Briefings in Ophthalmology and in his final year of residency. Dr. Paauw completed a glaucoma fellowship at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine’s Bascom Palmer Eye Institute. He has a great deal of research experience and is a prolific writer and presenter on eye care topics. Among his charitable activities, Dr. Paauw has participated in multiple ophthalmology mission trips to Haiti, Mexico, and Kenya.
What made you want to become an ophthalmologist?
I originally became fascinated with the anatomy of the eye in college where I did research on cow eyes and did ocular cell culture. In medical school I was struck by how I couldn’t find another specialty where the doctor could make such a dramatic impact in the life of a person in such a short time. The first time I watched a cataract surgery, I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I also am very interested in medical missions, and because many eye surgeries don’t require long term follow up to be highly effective, I saw it as a perfect fit for making a difference in people’s lives abroad as well as in the U.S.
How did you come to Piedmont Eye Center?
We don’t have any family ties to Lynchburg. One primary criteria we were looking for was a strong reputable multi-specialty ophthalmic group where I could be busy quickly. We also were looking for a community with many church options and a strong Christian school where we could send our 3 children, and my wife could potentially become a high school athletic coach. We loved the doctors and staff at Piedmont when we visited, loved the picturesque mountains, and also were very impressed by Liberty Christian Academy.
Why did you choose your subspecialty?
One of my mentors in residency was a glaucoma specialist and he used to say “glaucoma is a rescue mission and I’m happy to be one of the rescuers.” There is a huge need for more glaucoma specialists. While it doesn’t provide the instant gratification of cataract surgery, I truly enjoy the long-term relationships I’m blessed to develop with my glaucoma patients. There is also a lot more “art of medicine” to glaucoma than to cataract surgery and I like the mental challenge. I really like the balance I have currently of seeing both glaucoma patients and doing comprehensive ophthalmology.
What is the most common misconception about what you do?
Many people come into my office and are diagnosed with glaucoma for the first time. Their immediate reaction is that they are going blind. While some people do lose their vision to glaucoma, this is a small minority of people. With detection and treatment and maintained follow-up, the vast majority of patients with glaucoma never become symptomatic.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
I offer to pray with all my surgical patients. I had great role models in my residency that did this and it has been the most rewarding part of my job. When I first started I was hesitant because I didn’t want to offend people. I have found that patients are never offended by this, even if they have a different faith background. I am surprised sometimes the impact it has on patients and I get the impression that it makes them aware that I care about them as a person and not just a cataract to be removed.
What’s one thing you wish every patient knew?
Glaucoma can be a very serious condition if not caught and treated. It’s very important to keep up with visits and treatments even though you don’t notice any symptoms from it. With treatment it typically doesn’t progress in the majority of patients but it can be very dangerous and potentially blinding if left untreated.
What do you like to do when you aren’t at work?
I spend almost all my free time with my wife Halle and my 3 children Nathaniel, Alexandra, and Victoria. They keep us very busy. I am also on the Board of the Christian Ophthalmology Society.