Fresh out of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in 1976, Dr. Ronald Oser says he was searching for his own ophthalmology office space outside his family's hometown in Silver Spring. A lawyer friend recommended the up-and-coming town of Laurel between Baltimore and Washington, D.C.
Four decades later, his practice, Laurel Eye Physicians, thrives in the community the family deemed its second home, celebrating its 40th anniversary on July 1.
"I found through various reasons that Laurel was a good place to settle down," said Oser, who now practices alongside his daughter, Marcie Oser-Wertlieb, and fellow ophthalmologist Julie Gutmark. "Another ophthalmologist in Montgomery County informed me that they had one ophthalmologist for every eyeball. Prince George's County did not and Laurel didn't either."
While wrapping up his final days in training, Oser said his wife, Donna, looked around Laurel to find a suitable location with the help of another friend, Bill Childs, who at the time was a Main Street optician. The Osers settled into an office on Route 198 between Route 1 and Fort Meade, on the west side of the Baltimore Washington Parkway.
"I've been involved [in the practice] all along," Donna Osler said. "We work well together. Even when [my husband] was in medical school, I would sometimes work as an assistant to him and research things."
Like any field, Oser said, practices were bound to change, particularly in the evolution of medical sciences. The technology may have been the most notable, he said, but certain law requirements took time to get used to.
"It's not necessarily that the laws are bad," Oser said. "An example is that you can't afford the penalties that would occur if you didn't computerize the office. That cuts down on the efficiency. It takes a lot longer to enter things into the computer than it does to write something down."
During his time in medical school, Oser said he was taught to always write things down; if you didn't write everything down, he said, it's like you didn't do it. But with 50 or 60 patients, that wasn't an easy task.
"On the other hand, if you care about your records and you pay attention," he said, "it's a lot easier to communicate with the computer and retrieve [information] than it was in the old days when there were a lot of doctors who saw an awful lot of patients and kept their records on three-by-five cards."
Only two years old when the practice first opened, Oser-Wertlieb said she has fond memories of spending her summer days running around the office as a young child, and helping her mom with administrative work.
Little did she know her role would expand in 2005 when she joined the family practice as its second ophthalmologist.
"As I got older, I was working more with patients," Oser-Wertlieb said. "I went into medical school [at University of Maryland], thinking I was going to be in sports medicine or cardiology. Then, toward the end of my third year of medical school, it was time to start applying for residencies and I kept eliminating options."
Never pressured into joining the family business, Oser-Wertlieb said she didn't consider it until she heard her father's stories about work, specifically doting over patients.
Although mainly serving older clientele, the ophthalmologists said they see a wide variety of patients for medical issues, such as diabetic eye exams, dry eye treatment, glaucoma, cataracts and contact lens care.
As Oser-Wertlieb's love of the profession grew, so did the business, which eventually moved to an expanded location in 2006 in the business park on Laurel Park Drive, across from Laurel Regional Hospital.
"My parents, together, have had a lot of perspective and balance over the years and have managed to be blessed with finding good people to help them keep the practice going," Oser-Wertlieb said.
A longtime patient, Constance Blackwell, of Washington, D.C., began seeing Oser as a teenager with her family in the early '80s when they lived in Greenbelt. While many of her family members have since moved away, Blackwell said she's happily continued to visit Oser and his daughter.
"He's a great guy and I can't imagine not seeing him," Blackwell said. "We probably spend half of the time we're together just catching up."
The doctor's caring manner is a quality unlike any other, she said, and something that's hard to find in doctor's offices elsewhere.
"He sincerely really cares about his patients," she said. "It's important to him that not only does he take care of your eyesight, but he also takes care of you. He doesn't just ask, 'How are your eyes?' He's like, 'How are you? What's going on in your life?' If and when he retires, I will be a very sad person."
The day has yet to come, according to Oser, who said he's happy to have earned the trust, respect and support from patients over the years. An added bonus to the job has been working with his wife and daughter.
"We're enjoying what we're doing," Oser said. "One part of being a good physician is not just knowing the diseases and how to do it, but how to teach the patients that it's in their best interest to do something that's worthwhile to their health. That's why we all like to talk to our patients. I thank the people of Laurel for supporting us all of these years."