June 15, 2002
11 min read

Richard L. Lindstrom: clinician, teacher, researcher, mentor

During his nearly 30 years of practicing, teaching, innovating and shaping the future of ophthalmology, Richard Lindstrom has placed a high value on personal relationships.

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20th Anniversary logo Richard L. Lindstrom, MD, describes himself as a science-based practitioner. “I’m very science- or evidence-based in my approach to medicine. While there is art to medicine, I try to have a scientific approach, and, if we don’t have any science, I try to help create that science,” he said.

Over the past several decades, Dr. Lindstrom has had a large role in doing just that, creating science in ophthalmology.

But for him, he said, the most rewarding aspect has been practicing medicine and patient care and teaching other ophthalmologists. Mentors that he met early in his career taught him the value of the physician-patient relationship, and he has not forgotten their lessons.

“I find it extraordinarily rewarding to do a cataract operation or LASIK and have the patient come back with a big smile on his or her face. I like the feedback, the positive reinforcement we get from restoring or enhancing people’s sight with eye surgery,” he said.

Meeting the mentors

Dr. Lindstrom grew up Wayzata, Minn., a western suburb of Minneapolis. He graduated from Wayzata High School and went on to graduate magna cum laude from the University of Minnesota. He received his doctorate from the University of Minnesota Medical School in 1972.

Dr. Lindstrom first became interested in ophthalmology toward the end of his medical training. While doing his rotations, he narrowed his choices to plastic surgery; ear, nose and throat; and ophthalmology.

photo“I was always interested in what I call microsurgery,” Dr. Lindstrom said. “I like the idea of sitting down and operating under a microscope and doing things that are precise. ENT, plastics and ophthalmology offered that opportunity.”

Two surgeons he met at this time particularly influenced his decision.

“As is often the case, I met a mentor in ophthalmology, a gentleman whose name is Donald J. Doughman, MD. He had just come to the University of Minnesota from Harvard where he had completed a fellowship in cornea,” Dr. Lindstrom said. “He influenced my interest in ophthalmology significantly.”

At about that time, Dr. Lindstrom also met Malcolm A. McCannel, MD, a prominent private practice ophthalmologist in Minnesota.

“He let me spend a month following him around. I watched him in the clinic and in the operating room. After working in the laboratory with Don Doughman and getting excited about eye research at the university, and then seeing what Mac McCannel’s practice was like, I quickly chose ophthalmology,” Dr. Lindstrom said.

“I really was influenced by their personalities and the fact that they were happy with their choices. That influenced me to follow in their footsteps,” Dr. Lindstrom said. “If I had met a similar set of mentors in ENT or plastic surgery, I probably would have gone in that direction. It really was the people that I happened to meet at that moment in my life that allowed me to make the decision.”

Dr. Lindstrom said Dr. McCannel in particular was very good with people.

“He taught me a lot of interactive people skills in terms of how to talk to people. I learned a lot by just observing his style. I still use some of the things he taught me about physician-patient interaction,” Dr. Lindstrom said.

“Don Doughman was a very ethical, careful clinician, a consummate combined teacher-researcher-clinician. He influenced me to be not just a clinician, but to pursue a role in teaching and to have an inquisitive mind and do clinical and basic research,” Dr. Lindstrom said. “In my career I have tried to do all three.”

Early research

While he was a senior medical student in 1972, Dr. Lindstrom began his pioneering research into corneal preservation, partially funded by the National Eye Institute.

This research paved the way for the development of Optisol GS (Bausch & Lomb), which has since become the corneal storage medium most commonly used by eye banks in the United States and abroad.

“The research I began as a medical student with Don Doughman really led to the eventual development of that product with my career-long scientist associate, Debra Shelnik, MS,” Dr. Lindstrom said. “Optisol didn’t come on the scene until almost 15 years later, but it was that seed that really built that product.”

photo Dr. Lindstrom also did research in organ culture preservation, finding that the cornea is also well preserved at a higher temperature, a method that was commonly used in Europe.

This early research sparked Dr. Lindstrom’s lifelong interest in the cornea. Over his career he has attained 28 patents in ophthalmology, but he said he is most proud of the six in the field of corneal preservation.

From a financial standpoint, however, the invention Dr. Lindstrom said has been the most financially rewarding is in the area of IOL design.

In 1977, after completing a cornea fellowship in Minnesota, Dr. Lindstrom began a fellowship in Dallas, working with William S. Harris, MD, a pioneer in the development of phacoemulsification and posterior chamber lens implants.

“I was introduced to Bill Harris at a time when most people were doing intracapsular cataract extraction and, if they were implanting, were using iris-supported or anterior chamber lenses. Through him I was introduced to phaco and posterior chamber lenses,” Dr. Lindstrom said.

“This was around the time Steve Shearing, Dick Kratz, John Sheets, John Pearce, Bob Sinskey, Charles Kelman and others were doing their pioneering work. I got to know all those people. So I became involved at a very early stage of my career,” he said.

Dr. Lindstrom designed his first IOL in 1979. Since then he has designed IOLs for several companies, including Iolab, Surgidev, 3M Vision Care, Storz and Chiron. Several of the lenses, Dr. Lindstrom said, were commercially successful, and some of the patents he holds cover these lens designs.

Phillips Eye Institute

Following a 6-month Heed fellowship in glaucoma at the University of Utah and a stint as a private practitioner in Dallas, Dr. Lindstrom returned to Minnesota where he would spend the next 10 years on the faculty of the University of Minnesota.

In his last 3 years there, he was made a full professor of ophthalmology and held the Harold G. Scheie Research Chair in Ophthalmology. He was the youngest surgeon at that time to hold an endowed chair at the University of Minnesota.

After leaving the university, Dr. Lindstrom took a lead role in the development of the Center for Teaching and Research at the Phillips Eye Institute. The Phillips Eye Institute was – and still is – a freestanding ambulatory surgery center and freestanding diagnostic unit open to any ophthalmologist in the community. It is a nonprofit private venture, which unlike many similar centers is not university-based.

“I haven’t seen anything else exactly like it in the country,” Dr. Lindstrom said. “Basically, it is a place to go and do your surgery in a high quality environment and also provides access to all the expensive, sophisticated diagnostic testing equipment that most private practitioners cannot afford.”

When Dr. Lindstrom left the university, he approached the group developing the Phillips Eye Institute and suggested the addition of a teaching and research agenda.

“I thought that would enhance the prestige of the institution and make it even more attractive to patients,” he said. “I suggested our primary training agenda and research agenda should be a practical agenda for practicing ophthalmologists. We would focus on surgical skills transfer for the already practicing eye surgeon. We would train them on how to incorporate new surgical technologies into their armamentarium.”

This was at the time when phacoemulsification use was on the increase. Its popularity was growing, but many ophthalmologists had not yet been fully trained for it during their residencies. The Phillips center offered courses on phacoemulsification and IOL implantation. Subsequently, Dr. Lindstrom said, they began training surgeons in refractive surgery, including photorefractive keratectomy and LASIK. The Phillips Center for Teaching and Research has also supported numerous clinical trials on new technologies, Dr. Lindstrom said.

Out of the office

In his private life, Dr. Lindstrom’s interests extend far beyond ophthalmology, to activities as diverse as philanthropy, restoring and collecting classic cars and wooden boats, investing in real estate, serving as chairman and chief executive officer of a 50-year-old construction company and traveling.

Dr. Lindstrom owns several classic cars, including a Ferrari, a fully restored Austin Healy and an old Jeep. Occasionally he can be found displaying them at local car shows.

Dr. Lindstrom also recently finished restoring an all-mahogany Italian Riva runabout boat that once belonged to Rita Hayworth. He also owns a 1935 Garwood speedster and a Venetian taxi boat, also built in Italy.

“There’s a nationwide society, the Antique and Classic Boat Society. We have rallies and a couple of shows a year here, but I haven’t taken them on the road yet,” he said.

photo “There are a couple of national boat shows for the antique and classic boats of America, and I might take this boat on the road and show it a few places. I’ve shown my Austin Healy, and its won one concourse. It’s been restored to mint condition,” he said.

Dr. Lindstrom has also made philanthropy a hobby, raising money for the Vision Foundation at the University of Minnesota department of ophthalmology, where he has endowed a chair, and the University of Minnesota Williams Fund, which supports student athletes.

His philanthropy touches organized ophthalmology as well. He was a Founder Donor to the American Academy of Ophthalmology Foundation. And at the recent American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery meeting, incoming president Marguerite B. McDonald, MD, announced that he and his wife, Jaci, are among the highest level early contributors to the new ASCRS Foundation.

Dr. Lindstrom also raises money for small charities in his local area.

“There’s one called Inner City Tennis, which works with inner city kids to give them the opportunity to experience tennis, but really it’s a character-building and mentoring program disguised as tennis,” he said. “I spend some of my time and money now supporting that program.”

Mentor role

These days, Dr. Lindstrom said, “I actually get more and more pleasure out of mentoring other people, like my junior associates and my fellows, than I do from doing ophthalmology myself. I am still active in patient care, teaching and research, but I kind of enjoy the mentoring part of it more every year.”

Over the 25 years Dr. Lindstrom has spent in practice, he has trained 50 ophthalmologists as fellows in his practice, some of whom have gone on to become rather notable names. Stephen Lane, MD, is now the president elect of the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery. Other former fellows include S. Gregory Smith, MD, Frank Bucci, MD, and Richard Duffy, MD. Three of Dr. Lindstrom’s current partners at Minnesota Eye Consultants, David Harden, MD, Elizabeth A. Davis, MD, and Tim Schneider, MD, were also former fellows.

“I get a lot of satisfaction from teaching. The things I’m appreciating more now are how important those 50 fellows I’ve trained are and the contributions they are making. They make me feel a little bit immortal, if you will, like my work will live on with all the good work that they are doing. I take a lot of pride in that,” Dr. Lindstrom said.

“One-on-one teaching of other surgeons, and then letting them go off and apply those skills to their patients, kind of multiplies the good,” he said.

Construction experience lends perspective

Dr. Lindstrom is also the majority owner, the chairman and CEO of Lindstrom Cleaning and Construction, an insurance reconstruction business started by his father following World War II.

“When you have wind damage, fire damage or water damage to your home or building, you call the insurance company and tell them what’s wrong. Then the insurance company calls Lindstrom Cleaning and Construction, and we fix it,” he said.

“I grew up in the business. I started working as a laborer in it when I was 12. Then as a carpenter, etc.”

“My father sort of groomed me to go into the business, but instead I went to medical school and thought that was the end of that. Since this was a family-owned business, my father needed to sell it to someone to retire,” Dr. Lindstrom said. “I was the only person in the family who could afford to buy it.”

Dr. Lindstrom bought the business 10 years ago and still serves as chairman and chief executive officer, spending at least 1 day a month meeting with the management team and leading the company.

“It’s been fun for me. It’s quite different from medicine. I’m working with a different group of people than I am in my practice,” he said.

Ten years ago, Dr. Lindstrom also started another business with a friend of his.

“We went out and bought an apartment building that needed some work and fixed it up. Each year we acquired another. So I’m in the rental property ownership business as well. That’s been a nice diversification too,” he said.

He also has enjoyed providing seed capital and consultation for several startup companies inside and outside the eye care field. He serves on several corporate boards, including TLC Vision, a public company traded on NASDAQ.

Dr. Lindstrom said the experiences he had growing up and working in the construction business have influenced his approach to medicine.

“I think it did, in that I learned what it is to work hard,” he said. “Going out in the field on construction jobs, where there had been a fire or a flood or wind damage, a lot of times it was very hard work. I also got to see how a small business was run. I think that got me more interested in the business side of medicine. A lot of people have not had that opportunity and I think I have more of a business mind than I might otherwise have had without that experience. I think that’s helped me as far as managing a practice. It’s helped me be a little bit better as a consultant to companies in the ophthalmic industry.”

His experience in the construction business also gave him an appreciation for the quality of life ophthalmology has given him.

“When I look at the nice environment in my private office and at the Phillips Eye Institute and I compare that to the work I did from age 13 to 22 in the summers, working on a construction crew, I don’t feel so bad even when I’m having a bad day,” he said. “A bad day in ophthalmology is pretty good compared to some days I would spend on a construction crew trying to clean up a fire. You work all day. You go home dirty and tired. You make a decent living. But comparing it to the quality of life of the typical ophthalmologist, it gives you an appreciation if you’ve been on both sides.”


Dr. Lindstrom and his wife travel frequently and have seen much of the world.

“The most interesting is Africa. I’ve been to South Africa, Zimbabwe. Seeing all the big animals, I found Africa to be fascinating to travel and a fascinating culture,” he said.

“The country that I enjoy visiting the most is Australia, except that it’s too far away. I think the Australians are fortunate to have such a beautiful country,” he said.

Dr. Lindstrom currently has a small house on the Wailea coast of Maui in Hawaii where he and Jaci escape the Minnesota winters.

Jaci Lindstrom has also been involved in ophthalmology at Dr. Lindstrom’s side. She is a certified ophthalmic medical technologist and has served as executive director of the International Society of Refractive Surgery. She is currently executive director of the Intraocular Implant Club, the small honorary club of cataract surgeons started by Harold Ridley and others in 1966.

Dr. Lindstrom’s family is important to him. Together, Dr. Lindstrom and Jaci have raised their daughter, Michelle, who is currently training to become a nurse at Regis College in Colorado, and son, Michael, who will be a junior in high school.

Future plans

Dr. Lindstrom will be 55 years old this year, and he is starting to take a little more time off. However, he still plans to continue practicing, teaching, researching, consulting and mentoring. “But I’ll do it at a slower pace,” he said.

He is slowly cutting back on the number of patients he sees and making more time for golf, tennis, skiing, boating and automobiling.

“There are two ways to stop practicing ophthalmology,” he said. “There is the ophthalmologist who works to a certain age full time and then retires completely. Then there’s the ophthalmologist who slowly tapers off but maybe never quits.”

“When I was in Dallas, we had a senior partner who was 83 or 84 years old who was still coming to the office every day, seeing about 10 patients, reading journals and staying in touch. I hope that’ll be me,” Dr. Lindstrom said. “It’s my current intent not to quit ever, but to continually taper back. As long as my skills hold up, I’ll continue to be a surgeon. Then I think I’ll continue to do a little medical ophthalmology, a little research and some teaching and consulting on the side, until no one is interested in what I have to say anymore.

“Ophthalmology has been very good to me and is a big part of my life. I would like to stay involved with it as long as I’m able, as long as I’m making a contribution.”

For Your Information:

  • Richard L. Lindstrom, MD, can be reached at Minnesota Eye Consultants, 710 E. 24th St., Suite 106, Minneapolis, MN 55404; (612) 813-3600; fax: (612) 813-3660; e-mail: rllindstrom@mneye.com.