THOMAS J. JOLY, MD, PhD
Director of Oculoplastic Surgery and Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology, Eastern Virginia Medical School;
Ophthalmic Plastic Surgery, Virginia Eye Consultants
Dr. Thomas Joly often reflects on the educators who most impacted his life, shaping his career as an accomplished and compassionate oculoplastic surgeon.
Today, Dr. Joly hopes his students and residents at Eastern Virginia Medical School will look back years from now and feel the same way about him.
“Passing on knowledge is one of the things that fulfills us most as human beings,” he says. “The best legacy, in my mind, is to help other people be the best they can be.”
During his 16 years at EVMS, Dr. Joly has become a beloved and highly-respected figure in the Department of Ophthalmology. He has won multiple resident teaching awards and received the department’s Lifetime Contribution Award in 2019.
Dr. Joly specializes in reconstruction of the eyelid and eye socket. His complex, delicate work is crucial to protecting the eyeball and key structures such as the optic nerve, aiming to preserve vision and improve cosmesis.
To his students and patients, Dr. Joly is known for being skilled, caring and approachable – not to mention his habit of singing oldies tunes in the operating room. “I’ve got a VERY captive audience there,” he says with a laugh.
With more than 20 years of specialty experience, Dr. Joly has lectured locally and nationally, published numerous book chapters and journal articles and, since 2007, served on the Editorial Board of Ocular Surgery News. He enjoys collaborating with other local specialists for multi-disciplinary patient care.
“My job is always rewarding because vision is so important to people’s lives,” he relates. “On any given day, I may be fixing a droopy lid, removing an eyelid cancer or treating a cancer in the eye socket with possibly a high mortality rate. What I do ranges from very fine work to very big conversations about life and death.”
Whatever the situation, Dr. Joly is careful to listen closely to patients: “If I’m designing a new eyelid, people can be very particular about what they’d like to see. An almond-shaped eye, for instance, or a little crease here or there. It’s very artistic.”
Luckily, Dr. Joly is a Renaissance man himself. Growing up in Buffalo, N.Y., he considered pursuing a career in musical theater (think Broadway), architecture, or missionary work. He tackled sewing, woodworking, candle-making and jewelry-making – all crafts he still pursues – and taught his 4-year-old sister to read after learning in kindergarten.
At John Carroll University in Ohio, Dr. Joly designed his own major, a mix of science and humanities dubbed “The Complete Man.” In study groups, he liked trying to explain concepts to struggling students.
“That’s what helped me learn the most,” he notes. “I’ve always loved to teach.”
After college, Dr. Joly earned a combined MD/PhD degree at the State University of New York at Buffalo, with a doctorate in neurophysiology. He discovered his love for oculoplastics in medical school during a fourth-year externship in ophthalmic plastic surgery at Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia.
Dr. Joly completed his residency in Ophthalmology at University Hospitals of Cleveland, Case Western Reserve University, followed by a fellowship in Orbital Disease and Oculoplastic Surgery at the University of British Columbia.
In 2005, Dr. Joly joined Virginia Eye Consultants in Norfolk. The following year, the father of four began teaching at EVMS; he became the school’s Director of Oculoplastic Surgery in 2012.
While embracing medical advances such as improved orbital imaging equipment, Dr. Joly has leaned heavily on the timeless qualities of experience and communication with doctors-in-training and patients alike.
“Everybody who comes to me deserves to understand their disease and how we’re treating it,” he says. “Devoting myself to teaching just makes sense to me.”
Outstanding Achievements recognizes a local physician for accomplishments in the areas of education, medical innovations or introduction of new treatments and technologies to the region. It is our honor to recognize these accomplishments. Please let us know if there is a physician who deserves recognition in this column. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org