Wendy W. Lee, MD, MS, says she reached the pinnacle of her career on June 1, 2019, when at age 49 she was named professor of clinical ophthalmology and dermatology at the University of Miami’s prestigious Bascom Palmer Eye Institute.
Teaching has always been at the heart of Dr. Lee’s professional life. Before going to medical school, she taught biology, anatomy and physiology to community college students. What’s more, her own father was a teacher.
“I started at Bascom Palmer in 2002. I did my fellowship in oculoplastic surgery here from 2002 to 2004. And then joined the faculty in 2004,” Dr. Lee says.
Dr. Lee’s recent promotion to professor highlights her passion for medicine and teaching.
“Climbing the academic ladder through hard work in all the different areas that are required in academic medicine – so far that has been my greatest career accomplishment,” she stated.
Whether mentoring her teenage boys, medical students or residents, Dr. Lee has the same message for everyone – the first secret to success in medicine is to love what you do. “Find something that keeps you stimulated and excited and makes you happy to go to work every day. I think that’s absolutely key,” she emphasizes.
Dr. Lee, who’s oculoplastic practice encompasses not only aesthetics, but also functional conditions from orbital tumors and skin cancers to trauma, lives by her own advice.
“I fell in love with the creativity involved in this specialty,” she shares. “It is a nice mix of medicine and surgery. There is something different every single day of my life. So, it is definitely both exciting and challenging at the same time for its complexity and variety.
“I love aesthetics, but I also love helping patients with functional issues. You can really make a difference in someone’s life,” she explains.
“If you can improve someone’s quality of life, whether it be through aesthetics, taking their pain away or saving their life – that is the most rewarding thing.”
And, the fact that she’s a woman in medicine and academia motivates her more.
“Everyone knows that on average women get paid less than males. Most of us entered into the workforce being a minority, as women,” she says. “But I don’t think of it as a negative. I turn it around as a positive. It just challenges me more. I equally appreciate my female colleagues as I do my male colleagues. I don’t feel any discrimination at the workplace.”
Finding good work-life balance is Dr. Lee’s next bit of advice. This is probably one of the most challenging things, especially for females who have families.
“It means working hard, keeping up the motivation, stimulation, excitement and passion for what you do,” she says. “But you have to be well-balanced because if you put all your energy, time and effort into work it doesn’t create a healthy environment.”
A healthy balance, according to Dr. Lee, involves spending time outside of work and with family and friends. And, she practices what she preaches.
Dr. Lee met her husband of 21 years, Michael Lee, MD, while in medical school at Tulane. He is trained in obstetrics and gynecology and has a practice in anti-aging and hormone replacement therapy. They raise their children as a team, Dr. Lee says.
“I credit my husband for a lot of my success in life – at home and at work. I travel a lot to give talks, I work a lot and he has constantly been there for my family and my children,” she says. “It allows me to travel and be at work longer because I have peace of mind and don’t worry about my children. When I am home, it’s quality time with my family. We have two beautiful teenage boys who we’re very close with.”
Despite reaching her career goal, Dr. Lee says she has no plans and no desire to slow down.
“I’m going to continue what I’m doing – working hard and being there for my family. I plan to keep that up with research – clinically and academically. I hope to continue teaching around the world,” she says.
5 random facts about Dr. Wendy Lee
Q: If you could only eat three foods for the rest of your life, what would they be?
A: Sushi, pizza and French fries (if I had a magic pill that would prevent me from gaining weight!).
Q: What are your 3 favorite movies?
A: Silence of the Lambs, Something About Mary, Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
Q: What is your favorite treatment or procedure to perform? Why?
A: Blepharoplasty is one of my favorites. Although ‘bread and butter,’ it can be an elegant procedure with very high patient satisfaction.
Q: Name a product or service you love so much that you’d happily be that company’s spokesperson.
A: Botulinum toxins.
Q: Who is/was your role model or the person you most admire?
A: I most admire my parents for successfully raising five children who are happy and healthy. They have always kept our family extremely close through love and support – never pressure.