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A busy but balanced life

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2007 - Autumn


When Hylton Mayer, M.D., HS ’06, FW ’07, was a student at the Medical College of Ohio, he participated in medical missions to Ecuador and Honduras. While he found the experience worthwhile, there was something unsatisfying for him about leaving the villagers with boxes of antibiotics “and then just flying away.” He realized he wanted to specialize in a field of medicine where he could make a more lasting impact on patients’ lives.

He chose ophthalmology because helping patients preserve and restore their ability to see met that standard. He also wanted to specialize in a field of medicine that wouldn’t take over his life and leave him with no time for anything else. “Ophthalmology is reputed to have a reasonable lifestyle,” he said. “I’ve always enjoyed balance in my life. I didn’t want to be overwhelmed by work.”

Which isn’t to say that Mayer works the proverbial banker’s hours. The day he spoke with Yale Medicine was his first day as an assistant clinical professor, so he was still waiting to see what his work schedule would be like. But prior to his new appointment, his days as a glaucoma fellow began at 8 a.m. (an hour earlier if he had a lecture or a meeting) and ended at about 6 p.m. He worked four days a week in the clinic and one in surgery.

On clinic days, he saw between 40 and 60 patients—new patients and others needing ongoing or postoperative care. He performed diabetes screenings and eye exams for patients (children and those with special needs) who needed to be under anesthesia. On his surgery day, Mayer typically performed six procedures, mostly for glaucoma, but also for cataracts.

“The hardest part was dealing with the unpredictable,” he said. “Handling 30 patients a day isn’t a problem, but if you had a difficult patient, or one who has lots of questions, it throws your schedule off.”

Any wrinkle in the schedule can pose problems for Mayer, who is married with a 2-year-old daughter named Mia. Two days a week a nanny comes to the house to care for Mia; the other three days she goes to daycare. On those days, either Mayer or his wife, Patricia Seo-Mayer, picks her up, depending on whose workday is more manageable. Seo-Mayer, a pediatric nephrologist, divides her time between clinical duties and research, which involves studying the kidney damage that occurs in low-oxygen settings, such as after serious surgery or an infection. On research days, she can usually pick Mia up, but when she’s at the hospital, the job frequently falls to Mayer.

It’s not just the frequent need to relieve the sitter or pick up Mia from daycare that makes Mayer grateful for a predictable workday. “One of my favorite parts of the day is when I come home and get to play with her. We love going to the park,” he says. When Seo-Mayer works late, he also feeds Mia dinner and makes her lunch for the next day.

Between work and being with Mia, Mayer doesn’t have a lot of time for hobbies, but one passion he does indulge is soccer. He’s played most of his life, including competing in Division III soccer in college. These days he tries to get to as many pickup games near the Yale Bowl as he can. “It’s a great cosmopolitan collection of players from all over the world and walks of life,” he says. “I love playing.”

When Mayer is treating patients, walking to the park with Mia or suiting up for a soccer game, he knows ophthalmology was the right career choice for him. “Sure, it’s easy to become enamored by the drama and high intensity of some specialties,” he says. “It gives you a rush, but I was willing to give up that rush. In the long run, it wasn’t that satisfying to me.”

He also knows that any field of medicine can become all consuming, but he’s confident that as an ophthalmologist, it will be easier for him to live a balanced life than it would be in many other specialties. “I’m just on the doorstep of my attending career, so I’m anxious to see how it works out, but so far I’m very pleased,” he said.

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