Last fall, Dr. Barry was featured in a story titled “Still Strumming That Guitar.” The story recounted his time as a young medical student who spend his Monday nights playing at the Red Lion, a club in the Village. He made spending money there, spending his weekends studying for Monday morning tests (and playing gigs that evening).
The feature, written by Ty Baldwin, is reprinted below.
Still Strumming That Guitar
By Ty Baldwin
Originally published in the Fall 2017 issue of Pulse.
“I’ve always wanted to be a doctor ever since I was a child,” says Barry Wasserman, MD ‘92. “I grew up in Livingston, NJ, where Saint Barnabas is. I played soccer in high school and also volunteered in a hospital, trying to get some experience.”
It might seem odd, then, that Wasserman, a board-certified ophthalmologist with a practice in Princeton, who is also an associate professor at Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, would refer to himself as an “epic fail.” He laughs and explains: “When it came time for college I didn’t apply to any schools north of Virginia because I hate winter. I went to Emory University in Atlanta, and from Georgia I was heading south to Florida. I swore that I would never end up in New Jersey.”
But he failed to stay away from his home state. The ties of family and familiarity pulled him back to New Jersey and to NJMS. And despite his youthful misgivings about the Garden State, Wasserman says NJMS was a wonderful experience. He graduated in the same class as his brother Mark.
“The class of 1992 had an amazing group of people who were very, very bonded,” he says. “We studied hard and we partied hard.” At his 25th class reunion this past June, Wasserman got a chance to relive some of his fond memories.
“I’m a guitar player,” he says. “In med school I made my pocket money by going to New York City and playing acoustic sets at a bar in the Village called the Red Lion. I planned my gigs around tests. They were on Monday, so you could study all weekend. We’d have a test in the morning, and I’d have a gig that night. So on Monday night when the Red Lion was completely dead, 150 med students would come in and the place would be rocking. It became kind of a bonding thing for our class, and that’s why, twenty-five years later, we had our med school reunion at the Red Lion, and I played.” While his repertoire varies along the lines of classic rock and roll, Wasserman says that he always plays “Sweet Melissa” because his wife is named Melissa.
After med school and residency at NJMS, Wasserman did a fellowship in pediatric ophthalmology at Indiana University Medical Center. Today, he says, his practice is “split in two. I’m fellowship trained and often work with children and adults who have strabismus, misaligned eyes. So I uncross cross-eyed children. That’s super rewarding. I do that several days a week, and the other days I do LASIK surgery. I take adults out of contacts and glasses.”
Wasserman performs surgery to correct strabismus at Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia, where he also runs a clinic and lectures on the disorder. He explains that the appropriate treatment depends on the severity of the condition. “There are times when we use eye exercises, what we call vision therapy. And there are times when you can uncross children’s eyes just by giving them the right glasses. Sometimes, though, we need to do surgery and move the muscles that attach to the eye. By moving the muscles, we can change their pull.
Wasserman is particularly excited about a new center for refractive surgery on children to be opened at Wills Eye Hospital later this year. “We’ll be using LASIK technology to treat kids with vision problems and neurobehavioral issues,” he says. “Like severe autism, for example. These kids sometimes have significant need for glasses but refuse to wear them. Then they’re sort of in a cocoon because they have behavioral and social issues, but they also can’t see, which makes their issues even worse.”
Wasserman’s other focus is on treatments for retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), which afflicts some premature children and causes abnormal blood vessels to grow in the retina. “For example, Stevie Wonder is blind because he was born prematurely. But now we can stop that kind of blindness in the vast majority of kids by seeing them in the neonatal intensive care unit. Treatment is generally laser surgery, though now it’s sometimes treated with medicines injected inside the eye.”
“I do ROP work at Cooper University Hospital, in Camden, at St. Peters University Hospital, in New Brunswick, and University Medical Center of Princeton. I run all over the state!” he says.
All in all, Wasserman says life in New Jersey hasn’t turned out badly. “I’ve got a lot to be thankful for,” he adds. “A great wife, four great kids, and I get a lot of joy and a lot of reward out of my work. Twenty years in, I feel incredibly privileged to do eye surgery for a living.”
He’s still playing music too: following his performance at the 25th reunion, the managers at Red Lion invited him back to play in October. “Reliving those memories again,” he says with a smile.