By Matt Sinclair ’90
Over the span of his career, Dr. Jerry E. Berland ’81 has operated on wounded soldiers whose eyes were injured during the Desert Storm conflict and taught ophthalmology residents as assistant clinical professor at Louisiana State University School of Medicine in New Orleans.
A pediatric ophthalmologist and partner in Thomas Eye Group, Atlanta, Ga., Berland is also assistant chief of ophthalmology at Children’s Health Care, the largest pediatric hospital network in the United States. He previously served as president of the group, which includes 22 ophthalmologists and eight offices in the metropolitan area, and continues as a member of the executive committee. He is married to Laila Krauss ’84 Berland.
He completed an internal medicine residency program in Santa Barbara, Calif., which would have led to a career in cardiology. But, when he had one month to study any area that he chose, he trained with an ophthalmologist. This experience led him to become an eye surgeon.
Berland notes that many of the most significant decisions in his life have been influenced by random events. For instance, his acceptance into Hahnemann University Medical School, Philadelphia, Pa.
Sally Lou Oaks Loveman ’84 was an acquaintance his senior year at Lafayette. During a casual conversation about medical school applications, he mentioned that he was considering Hahnemann. She suggested that he reach out to her father, Dr. Wilbur Oaks ’51, a Lafayette trustee and chair of the Department of Internal Medicine at Hahnemann University Hospital.
“I wrote the letter reluctantly because I did not know Dr. Oaks and wondered why he would be interested,” Berland says. “He immediately replied, and insisted he would do anything he could to help another member of the Lafayette community.”
“I will never know exactly what happened behind the scenes, but I was accepted and attended medical school at Hahnemann,” says Berland. “Dr. Oaks taught me how helping others can improve their lives in a great way.”
Another example occurred when he completed the residency and left to fulfill his obligation in the U.S. Army Medical Corps, as a result of receiving a U.S. Army scholarship. At his first duty station in Fort Monmouth, N.J., Berland reported to the commanding officer, a colonel who was a physician. When he described his plan to become an ophthalmologist after he left the Army, the colonel, an ophthalmologist, became a mentor and helped him progress in his pursuit of the specialty.
Trained in eye surgery at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., Berland reached the rank of major prior to discharge after seven years of active duty.
A government and law graduate, Berland entered Lafayette with plans to major in biology and become a doctor. An elective course motivated him to change his major. He continued to take the required courses for medical school, but questioned his academic and career goals.
Berland enrolled in the Washington Semester Program, a partnership between Lafayette and American University in Washington, D.C., during which students take courses and conduct an internship on Capitol Hill.
“I thought a life on Capitol Hill represented the common career path of an attorney,” he recalls. “Although the practice of law and a role in federal government is a noble pursuit, the experience swayed me to go to medical school. I have no regrets. Pediatric eye surgery has definitely been the right choice for me.”