“I feel a real sense of responsibility in caring for my patients’ vision, the most precious sense they have – to take the extra time to make sure I do the right thing every time for each patient.”
Born and raised in Kingsport, Tennessee, Dr. Jake McMillin, the son of an Optometrist, grew up with first-hand knowledge of just what a medical career looks like for the doctor, for his family and for the community. Having that vantage, he really can’t remember a time he didn’t know he would follow in his dad’s footsteps in medicine, says the Ophthalmic surgeon and Corneal Specialist for Drs. Campbell, Cunningham, Taylor and Haun.
“My dad was an integral part of our community and he taught me that to be a good doctor, you have to invest in the people you serve, to do life right alongside them,” he explains. “He modeled for me the personal satisfaction of taking care of people at many levels, using all your skills and resources – whether performing eye exams or volunteering to paint the football field press box.”
One of his own skill sets Dr. McMillin recognized early on was his talent for tinkering. “Our family grew up working on thirty acres in East Tennessee, so there was always something mechanical that needed repairing, like tractors and four-wheelers,” he adds. Understanding how mechanical things worked, tearing them apart, repairing them and restoring their function became a real passion for the future physician.
“My dad noticed these talents and encouraged me that if I was interested in Optometry and I liked working with my hands, Ophthalmology might be a natural fit for me,” he admits. “The integration of medicine and cutting edge technology was a perfect career path for me. Ophthalmic surgery melded my academic interests with the simple fact that I liked to fix things,” he explains.
To pursue his interest in medicine and technology, Dr. McMillin attended the University of South Carolina in Columbia, graduating summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science – which, he says, is really an applied physiology degree. He had played football (tailback and strong safety) all the way through high school, incorporating weight training and running into his workouts, so his undergraduate degree was a natural bridge to medicine.
Undergraduate school was also where he met his wife, who earned her nursing degree and then practiced in her field to help support their growing family through his medical school, residency and fellowship. He was so happy at USC he stayed there to earn his Doctor of Medicine, magna cum laude, in the University’s School of Medicine.
“I really enjoyed studying the functional aspects of the body, so surgery was a real draw for me. But the most compelling attraction to Ophthalmology is the opportunity to restore function. Restoration doesn’t always happen in medicine,” he states. “Typically, medicine can manage disease and slow processes down, but it may not be able to reverse disease or injury. I believe that in Ophthalmology, we have an opportunity in many cases to restore function, and often, in a surgical procedure as short as fifteen minutes.”
After finishing a Transitional Internship at The Colorado Health Foundation with the Presbyterian Saint Luke’s Hospital in Denver, he returned to South Carolina for a residency at the Storm Eye Institute at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. He followed that with a one-year Cornea, Refractive and Anterior Segment Surgery fellowship at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. It was here that he trained under some of the world’s leading experts in cataract, cornea, and refractive surgery.
A large part of his practice at Drs. Campbell, Cunningham, Taylor and Haun is general Ophthalmology, however Dr. McMillin, also specializes in management of corneal disease and cornea surgery including corneal transplant and laser refractive surgery. Initially drawn to cornea disease because corneal blindness is often times reversible, Dr. McMillin continues to be amazed at the micro-invasive techniques used in his field.
“In the past fifteen years the field of cornea transplantation has been revolutionized, with modern corneal transplant procedures we are able to selectively transplant layers as thin as fifteen microns, all under local anesthesia. Recovery is now a couple of weeks, instead of a year or more. Giving patients back excellent vision with a corneal transplant is incredibly gratifying,” he explains.
As far as the future of his specialty, Dr. McMillin would like to see the day surgeons no longer perform transplants. With new research, he believes, injecting cultured corneal endothelial cells can cure many of the diseases requiring cornea surgery. This forward-thinking approach to eye care is one of the many reasons he joined Drs. Campbell, Cunningham, Taylor and Haun. “Our leadership team is committed to investing in technology and providing the most advanced surgical procedures for our patients.”
Dr. McMillin appreciates how down to earth, pragmatic and easy to talk to all the partners are. “Having access to medical professionals in our practice who have specialized knowledge of unique areas of the eye is such an advantage. Being able to have a curbside consult with colleagues in the middle of the day, while focused on a specific patient case, is so beneficial for our patients, in terms of care and convenience,” he states.
“We can just send them down the hall if there is a retina problem, or an oculoplastics need – and then, of course, there’s Campbell Cunningham Laser Center, where they’ve done thousands of refractive procedures. Patients don’t have to start over again in a new practice.”
“I played team sports my entire childhood, and if we all executed our position’s assignment well, the team functioned. Today, medicine is a team sport, and everyone has a vital position. For instance, the Optometrists in our practice do an outstanding job with full eye exams and managing primary eye disease. For me, as a cornea surgeon, having doctors able to expertly fit specialty contact lens with such precision is really an important skill. And that’s just one example of how we work together. There is such a wealth of knowledge and expertise to draw from in this practice.”
Growing up hunting and fly fishing in upper East Tennessee with summers spent water skiing and wakeboarding on Boone Lake, Dr. McMillin says outdoor activities are still very important to him, as well as his wife. While in Colorado they stayed fit competing in half-marathons.
They love to take their daughters running with them in their jogging stroller, and are excited about hiking with them in the Great Smokies.
To schedule an appointment with Dr. McMillin or any of our doctors, call (865) 584-0905.