She is a national expert in pediatric neuro-ophthalmology and craniofacial disorders, and a member and leader in the American Academy of Ophthalmology, American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus, and the American Board of Ophthalmology.
Here, she offers updates from the department in a vision-focused Q&A:
It’s been nearly three years since you took the helm of the Department of Ophthalmology and the Mitchel and Shannon Wong Eye Institute. What are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of the department’s faculty and staff, who are all fully aligned with Dell Med’s mission and vision. I've had the opportunity to recruit and hire skilled academic clinicians and surgeons who are committed educators. In addition to being a cohesive team at work, we also like hanging out together after hours. (I draw the line at karaoke, however!)
How have the department and eye institute delivered on their earliest goals? What has been a challenge so far?
When I assumed the position as chair and director of the eye institute in 2018, my five-year vision was to 1) recruit and hire core faculty and staff 2) deepen relationships with our affiliate faculty 3) lay the ground work for an ophthalmology residency 4) plan and build a UT Health Austin ophthalmology clinic 5) engage and integrate with the robust ophthalmology community of Austin and 6) expand access to ophthalmic care for the safety net population of Austin. Most of these goals have been accomplished or have begun in spite of the pandemic, an ongoing challenge for all of us.
Tell us about your current focus: What’s on your plate right this moment?
The current focus is our residency program. Right now we are conducting our first-ever recruitment season for the residency program, with interviews starting this October. We are an early match and hope to welcome our inaugural class in February 2022.
We spent a great deal of time designing our residency curriculum, with a vision to create a unique program that attracts top applicants despite being new. Our program offers the foundation of great clinical training, and it is one of a few residencies in the country to have both academic and private faculty involved in teaching residents. We are also building a state-of-the-art wet lab for future residents and medical students. We have worked with Travis County to help serve the underinsured/uninsured population of Central Texas, and we are currently working with the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital system to integrate care for our veterans with our residency program.
In order to make our program stand out, we directly addressed many of the issues that we experienced in medical education. We created a unique learning construct we call “workshops,” which focuses on teaching our residents how to think and apply information — not just memorize facts. The workshops are in addition to the traditional constructs of lectures and grand rounds. We are also investing in technology and are planning to create an online lecture library, not only for our residents at UT Austin, but also for those around the country, to improve both patient care and the reputation of our department nationally.
Our residents will also participate in the Dell Med's signature graduate medical education curriculum, Advancing Care Transformation, or ACT. ACT focuses on value-based care, leadership and other key competencies in health systems science, training our residents to more than passive participants in the health care system. We aim to train active leaders who will help shape the future of medicine, and we feel that this curriculum will be a cornerstone of recruiting the best medical students in the country.
Lastly, we want to create a down-to-earth and lateral culture that shows respect to our residents as colleagues. We want to create a residency where residents will not only enjoy their time in training, but also shape the future of our profession.
How has the landscape of ophthalmology changed in Central Texas in the last three years, if at all?
The population of Austin is rapidly increasing, which translates into more patients requiring high-quality eye care. To address this, we will partner with the community and invest in technology to meet that demand as we expand our program. And as increased utilization of services challenges the ophthalmic community to meet the needs of our underserved population, we will work closely with Central Health and our community partners to provide care for those in need.
We would also like to use technology to extend our reach by offering imaging and telemedicine visits beyond the UT Health Austin campus. I also have a goal of bringing on ophthalmic specialties into the department that are not adequately represented in the Central Texas. No person should have to travel outside Austin for specialty eye care.
My future plans include continued expansion of every pillar of the department and eye institute, with the research pillar being the top priority with the planned addition of a vision scientist to our department and eye institute. Because Dell Med is a college within The University of Texas at Austin, one of the world’s leading research universities, there are rich opportunities for conducting high-impact research in collaboration with UT Austin researchers.