Like father, like daughter, they see eye-to-eye—even in their chosen careers.
Wallace L. M. Alward, MD, professor and vice-chair of the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, has been a UI faculty member since 1987. Last summer, his daughter, Erin Boese (13MD), clinical assistant professor of ophthalmology, joined the department. Now they both treat patients in the UI Hospitals & Clinics Glaucoma Clinic, which Alward directs.
“The thing that attracted me to glaucoma, and I think it’s the same for Erin, is that you have these patients forever. Even if their condition is really well-managed and the patients are completely stable, you still continue to see them. I really value the long-term relationships I’ve had with patients, getting to know them and their families,” says Alward, the Frederick C. Blodi Chair in Ophthalmology.
Alward and Boese share clinic time once a week, and Alward, who intends to retire from UI Hospitals & Clinics in summer 2020, is transitioning many of his patients to her practice.
“Some of my patients I’ve had for 30 years, so it means a lot to them to transition to somebody who’s in the family,” Alward says. “I’m really excited that Erin is here. It’s like a dream come true.”
Following in dad’s footsteps
Growing up in Iowa City, Boese was familiar with her father’s workplace and his colleagues. She was a volunteer in the pediatrics unit and a baby sitter for the children of other physicians in ophthalmology. She and her older sister Sarah were the patients in photos demonstrating examination techniques for textbook and website articles written by Alward.
“I would see him come home from work, and I could tell he just loved his job. He came home with a sense of reward,” Boese says. “It was clear he was passionate about his patients and what he did on a day-to-day basis. Not everybody feels that way about their jobs, so of course when I’m looking for what I want to do in life, I would like to get the same thing out of my job.”
In college Boese studied abroad in rural Kenya, where she worked in an eye clinic. She was “awestruck” by cataract surgeries that helped patients regain their sight. When she entered the Carver College of Medicine, Boese originally set out to pursue pediatrics as a specialty, but a rotation in ophthalmology and feedback from her husband Brian helped to change her mind.
“I knew I was interested in ophthalmology, but my husband recognized I was much more excited after my ophthalmology rotation, since I came home talking all about it,” Boese says. “He said it was very clear from the outside that this was what I wanted to do.”
Following an ophthalmology residency at Oregon Health and Science University and a glaucoma fellowship at the University of Michigan, Boese joined her father at UI Hospitals & Clinics. Not many clinics can boast that one family provides more than a third of the physicians, as is the case in the Glaucoma Clinic, which includes a team of six ophthalmologists.
“I’m starting to get to know a lot of the patients he’s known for his entire career,” Boese says. “In the first five minutes of every patient encounter, they usually talk about the great care that he’s provided for decades, including a couple of cute anecdotes. It’s fun to see that side, because I’ve obviously known him as a father, so it’s a new perspective hearing from everybody.”
She is grateful to work with her father, but one of her concerns was going into the same subspecialty, specifically in the same department.
“It was important to me to make sure that I got to be my own person, and that I’m not Dr. Alward 2.0.,” Boese says. “I wanted to be my own person, my own doctor. At every decision point, I kind of fell in love with a lot of the same things that he loves about his job.”
The two frequently discuss challenging cases. Alward offers advice from his years of experience and celebrates with Boese the milestones she is collecting as she builds her practice.
“Having been in the department for 31 years, it’s such a great place to develop a career,” Alward says. “It’s a testimony to how strongly I feel about this as a department, how fair people are, how decent everyone is to each other. We’re all rooting for each other’s success. I feel really good about Erin being a part of that.”