“Hello. I’d like to speak with Dr. Mets.”
“Which one – Marilyn or Rebecca?”
This brief phone exchange between patient families and members of the administrative staff in Lurie Children’s Division of Ophthalmology takes place multiple times each day. Marilyn Mets, MD, has been the head of the division since 2000, and a member of Lurie Children’s ophthalmology staff since 1990. The “other” Dr. Mets is attending physician Rebecca Mets-Halgrimson, MD, MPH, who joined the division in 2013. Both are part of a busy team that treats nearly 18,000 patients each year for a wide range of eye disorders and vision problems.
On May 12, Rebecca and her young family will be at Marilyn’s home for a day that is very special for both of them: Mother’s Day. Why? Because Dr. Mets-Halgrimson is Dr. Mets’ daughter.
The relationship between Rebecca and her mom, Lurie Children’s first female division head, is one filled with warmth and mutual admiration.
“We have a lot of similarities, though I think I inherited a bit more of my dad’s mellowness,” says Rebecca, eliciting a laugh from her mom during a recent chat.
There are also professional parallels between Marilyn and Rebecca. Both completed fellowships at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., where they were mentored by some of the same physicians. They’ve treated some of the same patients, and have assisted each other during surgeries.
Rebecca says that pediatric ophthalmology was not necessarily at the top of her list of careers when she was growing up. Early in her career she worked briefly in biomedical research, and spent two years in public health before applying to Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, where today both Rebecca and her mother are on the academic faculty. And even in medical school, there were other surgical subspecialties that equally interested her.
“But there was just something about pediatric ophthalmology that kept drawing me in,” says Rebecca. “It’s a lot of fun working with kids, and you have more interactions with physicians in other specialties than in adult ophthalmology.”
“I tried not to influence her overtly, but maybe I did subliminally,” says Marilyn, who will step down as division head in January, but will continue to see patients with a reduced schedule. “While I was thrilled that Becca went into ophthalmology, I never anticipated she’d go into pediatric practice.”
Prior to joining Lurie Children’s, Rebecca was an attending ophthalmologist and assistant professor at Children’s Hospital Colorado in Denver. When a similar position opened up 2013 at Lurie Children’s, Marilyn spoke with Surgeon-In-Chief Marleta Reynolds, MD, about Rebecca.
“I told her that ‘Becca’ was very well qualified and should be considered for the job, regardless of our relationship,” she says. “Marleta simply replied, ‘At Lurie Children’s, we take the most qualified candidates – regardless of who they’re related to.'”
Rebecca says that by the time she started at Lurie Children’s, she felt she had proven herself during her stints in Denver and her fellowship in Washington, D.C.
“By then I was more confident,” she says. “It was in medical school and during my residency at Lurie Children’s that I worried that people might think that I didn’t deserve to be there because of my mother.”
Under Marilyn’s guidance, Lurie Children’s ophthalmology program has grown exponentially, and is considered one of the largest pediatric ophthalmology centers in the country. When Marilyn joined the staff nearly 30 years ago, she was one of only two ophthalmologists on staff. Today, the clinical staff numbers more than 18, including seven full- and one part-time ophthalmologists, who see patients in six locations.
“When I think about my mom, I think about her energy and hard work,” says Rebecca. “Also, she became successful in a surgical specialty that wasn’t very open to women at the time.”
Today, Marilyn seems almost bemused when she recalls the sexism that was pervasive during her early career.
“In the mid-1970s I called the division head of a prominent New York hospital about an opening for an ophthalmology resident,” she recalls. “He said, ‘We’ve never had a female ophthalmology resident before. What makes you think we’d even consider you?’ I remember being so angry at the time.”
“That’s one of the many things I admire about my mom,” says Rebecca. “She faced a lot of obstacles along the way, but she has always refused to back down from doing what she thought was the right to do.”
When asked what she admires most about her daughter, Marilyn returns the compliment.
“Rebecca is very, very smart and very capable,” she says. “She always does things for the right reasons, and is very even and balanced. And did I mention that she’s also a terrific mother?”
Marilyn Mets, MD, is the Lillian Sherman Cowen Reiger and Harold L.S. Cowen Research Professor in Pediatric Ophthalmology.