Two surgeons with two inner city practices, two academic teaching schedules and long, hectic workweeks that spill into nights and weekends marry and have two children. Does it work? The answer: “Without a doubt.”
Eye to Eye
Both rank among Castle Connolly’s most recent Top Doctors: New York Metro Area, and it’s not the first time. In the highly competitive specialty of ophthalmology, each has earned recognition for exceptional doctoring. They do their work at the Institute of Ophthalmology and Visual Science at New Jersey Medical School (NJMS).
Neelakshi Bhagat, M.D., retina specialist, and Paul Langer, M.D., orbital specialist, don’t see themselves as special in this environment of super-specialists. Bhagat, a professor, completed a residency at the institute in 1999 followed by a fellowship at the University of Southern California, went into private practice for a year, and then returned to NJMS as director of vitreoretinal surgery. At a time when diabetes is running rampant, she employs lasers, drugs, and surgery to stave off patients’ vision loss from the disease. As principal investigator for numerous clinical trials, she evaluates new therapies.
Treating traumatic eye injuries involving the retina is also a significant part of her practice. Complex retinal detachments; foreign bodies in the eye; hemorrhage in the eye from stab wounds, assaults, and nail gun injuries; and damage from motor vehicle accidents are all in a day’s work, as well as publishing papers on these procedures in major journals.
In Bhagat’s office, photos of their children and the children's artwork jostle for space with her many diplomas, certificates, and licenses. Her work life is busy, unpredictable, and highly charged, but her husband is as dedicated to caring for their children as she is. He also understands why she always responds to work calls, no matter when those calls come in. He knows that’s what top docs do.
Long Surgical Days
Paul Langer, associate professor and director of the Division of Oculoplastics/Orbital Surgery, has been at the institute longer than his wife. A graduate of Johns Hopkins Medical School, he did his residency at the University of California, San Francisco, where he developed an interest in orbital surgery and ophthalmic plastic surgery. He completed one fellowship at the University of Utah and another at London’s Moorefields Eye Hospital.
Langer became director of the New Jersey Medical School ophthalmology residency program in 1995, a position he held until July 2013, and is largely credited with the program’s stellar reputation. His surgical days often run 12 hours. Repairing fractures to the bony socket that houses the eye and other complex facial fractures, treating orbital tumors, removing skin cancers on the eyelids and reconstructing the lid, and constructing a new lacrimal drainage system—allowing tears to flow—figure into his surgical repertoire.
Among his specialties are removing an eye that has been traumatized or lost vision and reconstructing the orbit for insertion of an artificial eye, reconstructing malformed orbits, and treating difficult cancers around the eye and orbit. As people live longer, Langer is called upon to fix the drooping eyelids of more patients with ptosis.
While experience and skills are the chief measures of a top doc, add this couple’s determination to do “whatever is right. We don’t turn away complicated cases or the uninsured.” Their passion for teaching compassion to the next generation of eye surgeons ensures the survival of that unquantifiable quality that patients value above all else.
“We see people of all ages, including children and young adults, with disease, and it influences my own outlook on my children and family. I really appreciate my own good fortune,” Langer says.
That good fortune includes being part of a specialty that is highly competitive but has one of the highest physician satisfaction ratings. In this field—where “everyone is hardworking and enthusiastic,” according to Langer, and also highly skilled—both ophthalmologists are nevertheless standouts.
Not only are they a “top docs” couple, a rare occurrence in itself, but they seem to have all four of their feet firmly planted on the ground—in two distinct worlds that complement each other in all the right ways.