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Vital Signs

Clinical Observation

In this section, we highlight the human side of clinical academic medicine, putting a few questions to a physician at DMS-DHMC.

Donald Miller, M.D.
Assistant Professor of Surgery (Ophthalmology)

Miller specializes in cataract, corneal, and LASIK surgery and is medical director of the Laser Vision Center at DHMC. He joined the Dartmouth faculty in 2003 and is a 1991 graduate of DMS.

What got you interested in medicine?
I grew up surrounded by bankers and business executives. I never understood what they did. Medicine seemed much more interesting and fulfilling. And it didn't require that I sit at a desk, live near a big city, or travel all the time.

If you weren't a physician, what would you like to be?
A high school science teacher. I did that for a year before medical school and enjoyed it tremendously.

What is the greatest frustration in your work?
Tending to all the bureaucratic requirements that accompany teaching and patient care.

And the greatest joy?
I am lucky to specialize in surgical procedures that have an immediate positive impact on people's quality of life-I get to help them see well. They notice it literally seconds after I'm done. That's really cool.

What music do you listen to most?
Classic rock. My iPod is loaded with Grateful Dead. People smile when they learn this. I don't exactly fit the stereotype of a Deadhead. There are much more passionate fans than I, but I do love the feel of their music, especially the way they interweave the rhythms and motives when transitioning from one

song to the next.

What was your first paying job?
During high school, I set up a summer business with a buddy. We weeded a zillion gardens. I bought a stereo with the money I earned.

What do family and friends give you a hard time about?
Two things: I lose track of time and I'm too fussy about the details of any project I do.

What's the hardest lesson you ever had to learn?
You can be really good at only a few things.

Who is your hero-from either fiction or real life?

Hero may be the wrong word, but I sure admire my father. Growing up poor and fatherless during the Depression, he worked his way through college, changed careers twice, and built a comfortable, secure, and fun life for our family. I never felt limited in pursuing my interests. I'd like to have my kids feel that way.

What historical event would you most like to have been present at in person?
With the recent inauguration, I've been thinking about the Constitutional Convention. It's amazing how those guys worked through their differences to create such a new and durable blueprint for government.

What advice would you give someone going into your field?
Be prepared to sweat the smallest details. For instance, we make clinical distinctions based on the characteristics of individual cells we observe floating in the fluid of the eye, whether they are white cells, red cells, or flecks of pigment. In ocular surgery, incisions and movements must be controlled to within a fraction of a millimeter. While this precision is not unique to ophthalmology, it is characteristic of most of what we do on a daily basis.

What do you think makes for a successful physician?
Ultimately, our medical school instructors were right. It is very tempting to pursue money, or convenience, or some other interest as the grind of a career plays itself out. But everything we do should be about what is best for our patients.

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