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Department of Ophthalmology
Mayo ClinicVIEW PROFILE
Lauren Dalvin, M.D. (I1 ’14, OPH ’17), arrived at Mayo Clinic at the right time. Jose Pulido, M.D. (OPH ’04, Mayo Clinic Emeriti Staff), was planning to transition out of his practice. He taught her about ocular oncology and suggested she train with the ocular oncologist who trained him. Several years later and Dr. Dalvin is the only fellowship-trained ocular oncologist in Minnesota — her dream job. She figures she has at least three decades to pay it forward to train the next generation of ophthalmologists and ocular oncologists.
“If someone believes in you, it’s easier to rise and break down barriers. I have at least three good decades to pay it forward to bring in the next generation of ophthalmologists and ocular oncologists.”
I’m from Ohio and completed a six-year BS/MD program at Northeast Ohio Medical University in Rootstown, Ohio.
My dad is a podiatrist, and my mom is a child psychologist. I’m the first person in to obtain a medical degree in my immediate family.
As a child, I had osteomyelitis and was hospitalized, which was traumatic. I didn’t want anything to do with medicine. I wanted to be a math or hard science teacher. My dad pointed out that you could teach in medicine. He told me about the six-year BS/MD program at Northeast Ohio Medical University near where we lived. He suggested I shadow some physicians if I were interested in medicine and mentioned an ophthalmologist who lived down the street. Her practice hired a high school student for the summer to do office work. I got the job and had the chance to get to know that field of medicine better.
For my physics class in high school, I wrote a thesis on opto-electronic devices. I fell in love with ophthalmology and wanted to be a vitreo-retinal surgeon.
Ophthalmology has everything I wanted in a career. You can build long-lasting relationships with patients, spend time in the clinic and perform surgery, including the fine detail work of microsurgery. Even more exciting to me, ophthalmology provides the opportunity to do impactful research.
You’ll never find an ophthalmologist who says they wish they’d picked a different specialty. We’re all happy — this is the best choice.
Mayo was my top choice for residency. I interviewed on my birthday and had an immediate sense of belonging. This is where I wanted to be.
After I was at Mayo, I emailed Dr. Pulido. My ophthalmology mentor from Ohio, Dr. Deepak Edward, told me I needed to meet Dr. Pulido. He was a vitreo-retinal surgeon who also did ocular oncology. I didn’t even know ocular oncology was a specialty. I worked with him and came to love dealing with rare things that impact a patient’s life.
Dr. Pulido had trained with Drs. Jerry and Carol Shields at Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He asked me if I wanted him to contact Dr. Carol Shields about doing a fellowship in ocular oncology with her. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to train with the person who’d trained my residency mentor. As it turned out, Dr. Pulido was interested in my taking over his practice, which was my dream job.
I trained with Dr. Shields for two years as a Mayo Clinic Scholar. She’s a world-famous ophthalmologist. Everyone knows her name; she has trained ocular oncologists who now practice around the world.
Dr. Pulido was the only physician at Mayo who worked in ocular oncology and was transitioning out of practice. He helped me believe I could step into his practice. I owe my job to him.
Other great mentors I’ve had in the Department of Ophthalmology at Mayo Clinic include Sanjay Patel, M.D. (OPH ’99, I1 ’01, OPH ’04), who hired me. I often talk to him about my research plans and grant strategy. Michael Fautsch, Ph.D. (MBIO ’92, THD ’94) helps me with basic science skills so I can do translational research.
Until I got to fellowship, most of my role models were men. Historically, that’s who was doing the big stuff in the field. In Dr. Carol Shields, I had an ultra-powerful female mentor who was a wife, mom and researcher. I’m lucky to have experienced that. If someone believes in you, it’s easier to rise and break down barriers. I have at least three good decades to pay it forward to bring in the next generation of ophthalmologists and ocular oncologists.
The needs of the patient come first. There’s no place that lives that out like Mayo Clinic does. I’m allotted the right amount of time to meet patients, talk to them about what we can do for them, answer their questions and offer them options. When they leave my office, they feel listened to and like a participant in their care, which is the basis for a longstanding relationship.
Follow your dreams. Don’t let anyone stop you. People who are going to make a difference in the world don’t take no for an answer. Don’t think you’re not smart enough or good enough. Ask for what you want, and you’ll be surprised by how much people are willing to help you get there. If you’re willing to put in the time and effort, you can accomplish great things.
I’m still building the practice because I’m the first full-time ocular oncologist at Mayo. I see eight new and 16 return patients in a day. I operate on three or four new cancer patients every time I operate — twice a week every other week. We have a good volume of melanoma lymphoma patients, and I’m building the retinoblastoma practice. Most specialties are divided by adult and pediatric populations. I love that I get to see patients of all ages.
I’m the only fellowship-trained ocular oncologist in Minnesota. Everything I do is rare. The most common condition I treat is uveal melanoma, which occurs six times in one million people. Also very rare is pediatric retinoblastoma, which occurs 11.5 times in one million people.
We’re working to get proton beam therapy ready for the eyes. It’s used for pediatric conditions including hemangioma in the back of the eye and intraocular lymphoma/leukemia. In the very near future, I hope it will be ready for uveal melanoma.
I’ve started a lab to test treatments and try new medications that help preserve vision and lives. We’re growing our translational science laboratory and working on molecular-targeted therapy for uveal melanoma.
Harkening back to my original desire to be a teacher, I teach Mayo’s residents, fellows and medical students. All of the ophthalmology residents rotate with me, and I work with the surgical and medical retinal fellows and pediatric ophthalmology fellows. I also work with the medical students, who are so much fun.
The ocular oncology community is small. I’ve presented my research at national and international conferences, so people in the ocular oncology community have gotten to know me. It’s an incredible feeling to be one of few physicians in this subspecialty.
During fellowship, I was a workaholic. I’m now learning what I like to do when I’m not working and moving toward having a life outside of work. I am engaged to an amazing colorectal surgeon and peritoneal cancer expert who completed a fellowship at Mayo Clinic. Having him in my life is grounding. We’re both type A, so we drive one another to succeed and also force each other to take breaks and have fun. It’s important to my mental health to have something in my life other than work.
We like food. My fiancé is an amazing cook. We like to eat at nice restaurants. We enjoy travel when it’s possible. My fiancé is from Japan, which I’ve always wanted to see.
We’d like to start a family in the next few years.
I play piano and sing. I also love fashion and would like to be a fashion designer. And I really like cats. We have two cats who are like toddlers.
See past New Chapter stories here.