Dr. Yuna Rapoport of ‘Manhattan Eye’: “Don’t overcommit”

Don’t overcommit. I found myself overcommitting in every aspect of my life, and have not decided to do 10% less but enjoy it 90% more. This allows me to be more present and improves my physical well-being. Many ancient traditions around the world believe ‘wellbeing’ or ‘bienestar’ is a state of harmony within ourselves and […]

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Don’t overcommit. I found myself overcommitting in every aspect of my life, and have not decided to do 10% less but enjoy it 90% more. This allows me to be more present and improves my physical well-being.

Many ancient traditions around the world believe ‘wellbeing’ or ‘bienestar’ is a state of harmony within ourselves and our world, where we are in balance mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually.

As a part of our series about “How We Can Cultivate Our Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Rapoport, a board-certified and fellowship trained ophthalmologist who received her bachelor’s and medical degrees at Northwestern University, where she was part of the accelerated Honors Program in Medical Education.

She simultaneously received her MPH (Master of Public Health) degree. She completed ophthalmology residency at Vanderbilt Eye Institute in Nashville, Tennessee and then obtained additional training as a corneal and refractive surgery fellow at the prestigious Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary of Harvard Medical School. She has been in private practice in New York City for over three years and also operates at Corneal Associates of New Jersey, the highest volume corneal surgery center on the East Coast. She has accumulated a wealth of expertise that she now brings to each patient.

As Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology at Mount Sinai Icahn School of Medicine, Dr. Rapoport is actively involved in resident and fellow education. At Mass Eye and Ear, she served as a clinical instructor for residents in the MEEI emergency room. She is affiliated with and holds privileges at Mount Sinai Hospital, New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai, Mount Sinai St. Luke’s Hospital, Mount Sinai West Hospital, and Lenox Hill’s Manhattan Eye, Ear, and Throat Hospital, which is now a part of the North Shore Long Island Jewish Hospital System. In addition, she maintains surgical privileges at Retinal Associates Ambulatory Surgery Center in Manhattan. She holds a medical license in New York and New Jersey.

Dr. Rapoport is committed to global ophthalmology. Among the most rewarding of her experiences was researching the Aravind Eye Hospital in southern India, a model of outreach-based cataract surgery. She used her experience to co-found a nonprofit organization to help Ghanaian ophthalmologists start a similar surgical model in rural Ghana. It was during her experience at Aravind, observing cataract surgery and seeing the corneal pathology in southern India, that she decided to pursue ophthalmology as a career. She has since traveled several times to Nepal and India to do mission trips to teach phacoemulsification surgery techniques.

Dr. Rapoport is passionate about vision. She brings her expertise, delicate touch, and warm bedside manner and creates a customizable plan for each patient, whether surgical, cosmetic, or medical. She is a Diplomate of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, a member of New York State Ophthalmological Society and of American Society of Cataract and Refractive surgery. Dr. Rapoport has been named a Castle Connolly’s Top Cataract and Cornea Doctor by her peers and colleagues. She is a go-to ophthalmology expert for popular media, having appeared on Dr. Oz and Inside Edition. She serves as Chief Medical Officer of Luxury Optical Holdings, the largest domestic retailer of luxury glasses frames. She serves as a regular consultant for industry and for investment firms.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I was born in Riga, Latvia, and moved over with my family as religious refugees when the Soviet Union fell apart. We lived in Austria and then Italy while awaiting paperwork to enter the United States. Seeing my parents build up what they have from literally nothing as they established their lives in the United States was a huge inspiration for me and inspired my work ethic. My family has been an incredible source of support my whole life

What or who inspired you to pursue a career in helping others? We’d love to hear the story.

I took a year off med school and worked on a Masters in Public Health while traveling around the globe. While in rural India, I was studying the Aravind Cataract Surgery Model of providing large scale cataract surgery via camps in rural India. In rural India, people get very dense cataracts earlier than in the US, and an otherwise healthy 60 year old who cannot see well enough to take care of himself takes his son/ daughter out of the workforce to care for him. Thus it is a large public health problem. I was researching this system to help implement a similar program outside of Accra, Ghana. While observing the cataract camps in India, I realized that the cataract surgeries themselves were insanely cool and the microbiology of the corneal ulcers were fascinating. While I had a passion for public health always, this experience sparked my interest in ophthalmology specifically and the idea that a 10 minute surgery could permanently improve someone’s quality of life in a tremendous way.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

My ophthalmology residency program director, Dr. Laura Wayman, inspired resilience in me more than anybody, and I believe that overall trait is more important than any one piece of knowledge or technical skill. It takes such incredible dedication to teach surgery and now that I teach it I realize how much patience one needs to have. Each step of the surgery she would guide us, and I still hear her voice in my head at various points of the procedure instructing me.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of pursuing your passion? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

When I had LASIK myself, I took the seat of the patient. I had done my research, and completely trusted my own ophthalmologist in Los Angeles. However, since I was having it performed in Los Angeles, my last question involved what the emergency protocol was in case there was an earthquake. Instead of sugarcoating anything, my doctor’s deadpan reply was, “well, Yuna, we never really know how we will react in an emergency situation, right?!”

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

It sounds cliché, but resiliency is a trait that is crucial. During any hard time that I now face, I look back on my failures and thank them, because it taught me resiliency and reminds me that I can now rely on that feeling to move through whatever is difficult in the moment.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

I am putting together an informational LASIK announcement as a form of self-improvement/ self-care during this pandemic time. Chronic contact lens wear is very unhealthy for the corneas, and glasses fog up with all the mask wearing, so LASIK is the best solution to both. Since there are minimal venues for travel and entertainment, funds that were previously set aside for that can now be divested to self-care and self-improvement. There is nothing better for self-care than improving your vision once and for all and getting rid of glasses and contacts permanently. Not only does it improve the overall health of the eyes, but it improves appearance, well-being, and quality of life.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. In my writing, I talk about cultivating wellbeing habits in our lives, in order to be strong, vibrant and powerful co-creators of a better society. What we create is a reflection of how we think and feel. When we get back to a state of wellbeing and begin to create from that place, the outside world will reflect this state of wellbeing. Let’s dive deeper into this together. Do you have a specific type of meditation practice that you have found helpful? We’d love to hear about it.

I didn’t realize there was a name for it, but what I mainly practice (when I do) is Zen meditation. No gimmicks, no mantras. I was in a Zen meditation group at the end of college, and have come back to it at various points since then. I sit in a quiet place, focus on my breath, and let thoughts pass by.

Thank you for that. Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum physical wellbeing? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Optimize sleep. For me, sleep affects my mood, my energy, my productivity, and my relationships, and the extent that I can do various things (sleep mask, temperature, sleeping in) to optimize sleep, I do.
  2. Exercise. Cliché but specifically cardio and getting out of breath makes me more focused and helps me sleep better. When I first got my puppy, I read that there are no untrainable dogs, just dogs that don’t get enough exercise. I think the same thing is true of people!
  3. Don’t overcommit. I found myself overcommitting in every aspect of my life, and have not decided to do 10% less but enjoy it 90% more. This allows me to be more present and improves my physical well-being.

Do you have any particular thoughts about healthy eating? We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are some great ways to begin to integrate it into our lives?

Start small. Have the first half of your day start off healthy. Grab a yogurt instead of a muffin and it will set you up to eat a little healthier throughout the day. Then, at the end of the day, you can

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum emotional wellbeing? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Having a gratitude practice. Part of this practice should include an appreciation of yourself. Keeping a journal in which you write 3 things you are grateful for and 3 things you appreciate about yourself helps keep this going. As your gratitude practice becomes more established, you will need to evolve it. Trying to physically embody gratitude is another quality I learned.
  2. Talk to friends. Often. Laughing leads to serotonin boosts which leads to physical well-being, less illness, and longevity.
  3. A furry animal member! Having a pet has increased my capacity for joy and love tremendously. Caring for someone else, furry or otherwise, is an established form of self-care.

Do you have any particular thoughts about the power of smiling to improve emotional wellbeing? We’d love to hear it.

Smiling, even if it is forced, has been proven to increase endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin, leading to increased emotional wellbeing.

Finally, can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum spiritual wellbeing? Please share a story or example for each.

Thinking of your inner spiritual self, or intuition, or gut, or whatever you want to call it, as guiding your emotional, intellectual and physical self can be a helpful tool towards spiritual wellbeing.

Do you have any particular thoughts about how being “in nature” can help us to cultivate overall wellbeing?

In a society in which we are constantly bombarded by distractions, I personally feel the most present when I am surrounded by nature and things larger than myself. I lean towards physical activities in nature that induce flow and being in the moment- like skiing, rock climbing, and kite surfing. When you are focused on your physical form, it forces your brain to stop the chatter, and this overall improves wellbeing.

Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I will bring this question back to my initial experience in rural India. In some of the hospitals there, the intraocular lenses and are manufactured on the premises for a fraction of the cost as the US. Within ophthalmology, intraocular lenses do not need to cost a fortune, and medications/ drops do not need to be placed at artificially high prices by pharmaceutical companies. A movement I would inspire would be to bring drug and medical device prices down.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂

In entertainment- Larry David and/or Bill Murray

Since laughter/ smiling is the best medicine, I think both would help out on those fronts.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.

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