November 2019


A day in the life of Thomas Clinch, MD

by Liz Hillman EyeWorld Editorial Co-Director

Thomas Clinch, MD
Source: EyeWorld


In morning haze characteristic of Washington, D.C., in August, Thomas Clinch, MD, made five stops on Metro’s red line to his practice’s downtown location.
A short walk from the White House is one of three offices held by the Eye Doctors of Washington, where Dr. Clinch has practiced for 20 years. At 7:45 a.m., staff at the practice were already getting situated: receptionists at their desk, techs prepping the machines and exam rooms. Dr. Clinch arrives describing a not-so-ideal sleep the night before. Still, within minutes he’s ready to greet patients with a handshake and a smile.
In an exam room that smells of isopropyl alcohol evaporating from equipment wiped moments before, Dr. Clinch describes his clinic routine. He either takes the subway to work, as he did today, or if he has been at his weekend house, his commute is a 50-mile drive back to the city.
“It’s one of two extremes,” he says.
Each clinic day is different in terms of the number of patients he’ll see. In August, Congress is on recess, so it’s a quieter time when lawmakers, lobbyists, and other groups that populate much of the D.C. area head out of town. What’s more, it’s a Tuesday, the day before Dr. Clinch starts to operate. He performs cataract surgery on Wednesdays and LASIK on Thursday afternoons. This reduced the number of early postop patients that he would evaluate that day.
“On a day like today, I’ll usually see somewhere between 40 to 45 patients, and it will be allocated into cataract consults, LASIK consults, postoperative patients, brief appointments, and long appointments. In each hour I try to do a mix of all of the above,” he says.
True to his word, Dr. Clinch spends the morning toggling between two exam rooms and a lounge-like consultation room. During brief moments between patients, Dr. Clinch reviews preoperative charts for cataract surgery the next day and answers questions from his techs.
“You actually don’t find much time for yourself. It’s actually quite busy and patients will often comment about how we jump from room to room, but I have a phenomenal staff, so that everything is preorganized for me, which makes it easier, and I do try to get a sip of water in between each patient,” he says.
Dr. Clinch greets each patient with a handshake and personally reviews details of their chart with them, confirming information is correct. At some points, he uses his own experience or humorous analogies to relate or communicate messages to patients. When talking with a dry eye patient, Dr. Clinch makes a Game of Thrones reference that “Winter is coming” and when forced dry heat turns on, it necessitates increased artificial tear use. To a cataract consult with mild dry eye, he likens the ocular surface to grass. That grass (the ocular surface) needs to be optimized now before the Redskins, D.C.’s NFL team, starts to play on it (as in the surgeon performing cataract surgery). He also uses an analogy of knees that hurt after climbing the stairs. The stairs exacerbate the problem in the knees, they don’t cause it (cataract surgery doesn’t cause dry eye, but it can exacerbate it).
“The easiest part of the day is that we feel blessed that we can really help people. It’s a really gratifying field to be in—ophthalmology. Probably one of the most challenging areas is it’s also very critical sense—sight—so it’s very precious,” Dr. Clinch says.
Challenges include the different perceptions patients can have about what can be achieved and their levels of concern.
“In Washington, D.C., it’s a high-angst area, lots of questions, I find giving patients a little bit of humor throughout that process tends to make it a little easier and repetition of important facts is very important. We try to drive any really important point home to a patient three times between my staff, myself, and our counselors,” Dr. Clinch says.
Like a well-oiled, on-time machine, the clinic empties of patients by noon. After nearly 20 patients, Dr. Clinch is ready for lunch.

Thomas Clinch, MD, has been an ASCRS member since 1988

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A day in the life of Thomas Clinch, MD A day in the life of Thomas Clinch, MD
Ophthalmology News - EyeWorld Magazine
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