Diana Nguyen, OD, was still an optometry student when she met her future mentor Richard Maharaj, OD, FAAO. They were first introduced at the first Canadian Dry Eye Summit in 2018 when Dr. Maharaj—one of the founders of the event along with Trevor Miranda, OD, and Jeff Goodhew, OD—was looking for volunteers. “I helped check in people and ran the mic, and then I started asking questions,” Dr. Nguyen recalls. Her passion for dry eye, a topic covered more commonly in clinic than in the class, started to grow. Dr. Nguyen accepted other volunteer opportunities at conferences and became an intern in Dr. Maharaj’s practice.
Those experiences helped set the path for her future. Then, just as Dr. Nguyen was about to graduate last year from the University of Waterloo School of Optometry, her final clinic was cut short due to COVID-19. Graduation went on—virtually—and then the waiting began for her exams and also her license, which was delayed several months. Dr. Nguyen recalls the letdown that she felt during that time when she was eager to kick start her optometry career. Yet she adds that she’s thankful to Dr. Maharaj, who helped put things in perspective. In the big picture, these few months of waiting would be such a minimal time in years of her future career, he reminded her.
RE-CHANNELED ENERGY WITH A NEW PLAN
Dr. Nguyen took advantage of her down time and refocused, tapping into her artistic abilities. In addition to creating graphics for her own social media, she officially joined the team behind the scenes for MyDryEye.ca, creating custom digital artwork and infographics and curating blogs for this patient-facing website. She is also on the planning committee for the Canadian Dry Eye Summit, Canada’s premier dry eye meeting, which has a faculty of well-renowned optometrists and ophthalmologists across North America. She also helps connect with sponsors and support the team to make the event even stronger.
In the fall of 2020, she joined Dr. Maharaj’s practice as an associate OD. She’s in his medically focused office, which doesn’t have an optical. Dr. Nguyen leads the myopia control segment and also specializes in dry eye custom treatments from intense pulse light, radio frequency and microblepharoexfoliation. She is also expanding her specialty lens knowledge and services as she sees more cases of Sjorgen’s syndrome and other cases where scleral lenses are needed. Dr. Nguyen works in another practice the other days of the week, and there she’s implemented dry eye and myopia control services and also is in charge of social media and marketing. Dr. Nguyen spends time outside of the office developing creative content.
LEARN FROM YOUR MENTOR, THEN PASS IT ON
It’s a full plate with many pieces to juggle, but it allows Dr. Nguyen utilize all of her specialty skills. Yet she says that, as a new graduate, sometimes she suffers from imposter syndrome, an experience of doubting your own abilities and questioning if accolades are deserved. “There’s an unconscious gender bias in healthcare, and it affects women more,” Dr. Nguyen says.
Dr. Maharaj continues to be a cheerleader in her corner. “He encourages me to be more confident and reduce my self doubt. He goes the extra mile to teach me, and he always tells me to own my success. ‘Diana, you did this, and you should be proud.’” He’s shown her the ropes from the clinical side but also the practice and business management elements of the practice. “Women often lift each other up, but it’s also great when working with men who support strong women.”
Dr. Nguyen is happy to share all that she knows with the optometry students who intern in the clinic now as she once did. She hopes to also instill more confidence and reduce imposter syndrome for incoming grads. “With our last intern, I’m encouraging her as much as I can—showing her interesting cases and spending time talking one-on-one,” Dr. Nguyen says. “I hope to pass on the mentorship, because it’s very meaningful to have and I was once in their shoes.”
Learn more about unconscious gender bias and imposter syndrome: Dr. Nguyen recommends listening to Australian ophthalmologist Tanya Trinh, MD, who addresses the ways to reverse a toxic ecosystem to allow women to flourish.