When she agreed to take the reins of the University of Mississippi Medical Center's busy Department of Ophthalmology, Dr. Kimberly Crowder said she didn't have a lot of immediate questions - but her patients did.
"They all asked, 'Are you still going to be my doctor?' I've told them all yes," said Crowder, 42, who succeeds one of her mentors, Dr. C.J. Chen, who stepped down as chairman in June but remains a full-time faculty member.
A 1999 University of Mississippi School of Medicine graduate, Crowder is leading a department that has grown from a small handful of physicians to 16, and that since moving into the Lakeland Medical Building in 2005 has all but run out of space for its swelling patient volume.
The comprehensive ophthalmologist who provides primary eye care is well poised for her new role after completing her ophthalmology residency at UMMC in 2003, joining the department's faculty immediately afterward, and serving as the program director for the Medical Center's ophthalmology residents.
Dr. Kimberly Crowder, new chair of the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, performs an eye examination on Betty Rush of Philadelphia. Assisting is Dr. Jordan Burnham, a resident in the department.
"I'm approaching this as a very steep learning curve," she said of her time so far as chairman. "Dr. Chen has made it very easy. He recognizes that it's my turn to figure it out on my own.
"The quote I hear in this role most often is, 'Didn't Dr. Chen tell you?' " she joked. "The answer is often 'No!'"
Crowder is settling into days spent in administrative duties, teaching and seeing patients - and juggling a family that includes children Sandra, 11; Will, 7; and Sarah Kate, 4; and husband Dr. William Crowder, an interventional cardiologist at St. Dominic Hospital.
She's had to give up being residency program director, handing over that role to Dr. Kyle Lewis, assistant professor of ophthalmology. "He trained under me, and he's bringing his own leadership style to the table," Crowder said. "I'm very proud of him."
Likewise, Chen is proud of Crowder.
"She's doing beautifully. She has the kind of personality to be a leader," said Chen, a native of Taiwan and one of the world's premier experts in surgical management of vitreoretinal disease, especially those related to diabetes, ocular trauma and complicated retinal detachment.
"She is meticulous and pays attention to detail. She plans ahead. Most importantly, she loves the department and the Medical Center," Chen said. "She makes the department better."
Crowder graduated from St. Joseph High School, then located in Jackson, and received her bachelor of science in biology from Millsaps College in 1995. At UMMC, she's served as associate professor in ophthalmology from 2012 until her appointment as department chair.
Since 2003, she has been an attending physician in ophthalmology and filled multiple roles including course director for medical student electives in ophthalmology, course director of Family and Emergency Medicine resident rotations in ophthalmology, and director for the McBryde Resident Eye clinic when it was still a hospital-based clinic.
Crowder is board certified by the American Board of Ophthalmology and practices comprehensive ophthalmology.
She's a member of a number of professional societies, among them the Mississippi Academy of Eye Physicians and Surgeons, serving as alternate councilor to the American Academy of Ophthalmology from 2015-17; and the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the American Medical Association and the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology.
"While serving as program director for the ophthalmology training program, Dr. Crowder honed her skills as an effective educator," said Dr. Charles O'Mara, associate vice chancellor for clinical affairs. "She is also a talented clinician with a reputation for providing outstanding patient-centric care for her patients.
"UMMC is proud and pleased to have her now assume the position of department chair in ophthalmology. She enjoys the respect of her colleagues, and she brings energy, new ideas, and strong leadership traits to the department."
Crowder said she and her husband made the decision to anchor their careers in Jackson after graduating together from both Millsaps and the School of Medicine. They married two weeks after graduating from medical school, then began their residencies at the Medical Center two weeks after that.
"We were interviewing at the same time for residencies - probably 20 different places - to figure out where we could go together," Crowder said, "We felt it was best to just stay at home."
Chen offered her the position of residency program director as his department chair duties increased, she said. "My incentive for wanting to stay here is because I thought I could help him make our residency program even stronger," she said.
That's certainly happened. The program now is accepting four residents annually. "When I started this job, we only had three residents a year and four full-time faculty," Crowder said.
Crowder is busy on and off the UMMC campus. She is a Sunday school teacher at St. Richard Catholic Church in Jackson, a sustaining member of the Junior League of Jackson, and frequently volunteers as the faculty representative for glaucoma and diabetic screenings at the Jackson Free Clinic and UMMC's Grants Ferry multispecialty clinic in Flowood.
Family and kids consume her time away from the office, Crowder said. "We do a lot of school-oriented things, but we like to travel when we can," she said.
She found out quickly that she'll have one more activity, this one at work, to juggle into her schedule. "Two weeks into this job, I was told that I need to do our five-year department review. That includes strategic planning," Crowder said.
"I definitely have the historical perspective of things that have worked for the department and that have not," Crowder said.
"The changes at UMMC since 1995 have been very positive. I hope to do the same in my department."