20 Years, 20 Leaders: Dr. Julia Haller


‘Never accept less than the very best and be passionate about excellence’

Our connection to the experiences of those who came before helps to define the present and future of medicine. The Foundation is celebrating 20 years by joining in conversation with 20 women leaders in all aspects of medicine to understand their stories and how their experiences will shape the next generation.

Julia A. Haller, MD is Ophthalmologist-in-Chief at Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia. She is also president of the Women in Medicine Legacy Foundation, past president of the Retina Society, American Society of Retina Specialists, and sits on the Board of Trustees of the Association of University Professors of Ophthalmology, the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, and the Society of Heed Fellows.

Here’s what our leader has to say:

Why did you choose to go into medicine? 

It had challenges that appealed to me. I loved the idea of helping people, making the world a better place, having all my faculties fully engaged in clinical work, research, mentorship and academia—things that make me excited to come to work every day.

What’s your core philosophy as a woman in medicine? 

To do my best every day—and then leave it all on the field.

What motivates you? 

My patients are a huge inspiration. I’m also motivated by my sterling colleagues and the tradition of excellence at the places I have been privileged to work.

How do you motivate others? 

I try to set a good example, and lead by that example. I also want to facilitate things to make it easier for others to move forward.

What challenges have you had to overcome? 

It’s a long road and you have to keep your nose to the grindstone. To achieve long-term goals requires being gritty, determined and resilient.

Humans fail. Please share a time when you failed and what you did next to move forward.  

When I was at Hopkins there was a leadership role that I was interested in and I learned a great lesson from the process of not getting it. I learned my typically female approach to advancement—of working hard, being modest, and waiting for someone to notice it—was not effective. I had to raise my hand and be recognized—and I didn’t do it. The next time I had an opportunity, I was proactive. I went after it. 

Who was your most important mentor(s) and why? 

My best mentors have been my colleagues. I’ve learned so much from outstanding, world-class peers. Dr. Arnall Patz, chair of ophthalmology when I was at Hopkins, and Morton Goldberg, the chair after Dr. Patz, were wonderful. William Tasman, my predecessor at Wills Eye, was a giant of ophthalmology and a great supporter. They pushed me to take jobs and assume roles that allowed me to flourish and advance.

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned? 

In an overall approach to medicine, it’s to never accept less than the very best and be passionate about excellence.

What’s the most influential book you’ve read in the last five years?

There is more than one, starting with Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg. Her very balanced feminist, more humanist viewpoint, so clearly articulated themes that resonate with me. David McCullough’s Harry Truman biography made a big impression on me. Truman was a truly modest human being, a real contrast to so many of the politicians of today.

How do you define success and how do you measure up to your own definition?

Having the people around you, the people you associate with, and your family flourish and achieve at a very high level because of what you have been able to do is success to me.

What advice would you give to the next generation of women in medicine? 

It’s more challenging as time goes on because some of the pioneering spirit is inevitably lost as more and more women enter medicine. I’m motivated to never let my fellow women down and I believe in instilling that spirit in the next generation. The same basic principles of excellence apply. Sir William Osler said “the best preparation for tomorrow is to do today’s work superbly well.” And the next day, start over again.

Dr. Haller’s Past Roles: Residency and fellowship, Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins.

Dr. Haller’s Awards / Honors: Bryn Mawr School scholarship award for valedictorian; National Merit Scholarship; A.B. in philosophy magna cum laude, Princeton; Alpha Omega Alpha, the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) Honor Award; Rolex Achievement Award (to a past participant in collegiate varsity lacrosse); AAO Senior Achievement Award; Vitreous Society Senior Honor Award; Crystal Apple Award of the American Society of Retina Specialists (ASRS) for teaching and mentorship; Kreissig Award from EURETINA; President’s Award from Women in Ophthalmology; Secretariat Award from the AAO; Gertrude Pyron Award from the Retina Research Foundation/ASRS; Lifetime Achievement Award from the AAO; Louis Braille Award from Associated Services for the Blind; Heed Award from the Society of Heed Fellows; Strittmatter Award from the Philadelphia County Medical Society; Chair XVI with the Academia Ophthalmologica Internationalis.

Alicia Lazzaro