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One To Watch | Mar/Apr '17

One to Watch: Shazia Ahmed, MD

Shazia Ahmed, MD

Shazia Ahmed, MD

Dr. Ahmed practices at the Eye & LASIK Center in Massachusetts.

Please share with us your background.

At an early age, I knew I loved science and made the decision to pursue medicine. I attended Brown University, where I majored in mechanical engineering and graduated magna cum laude with honors. Following that, I attended the Medical College of Georgia, where my interest in ophthalmology developed. I pursued my residency training at Tufts Medical Center, followed by a cornea and refractive surgery fellowship at Baylor College of Medicine. Since then, I have been working in private practice.

What drew you to ophthalmology and, specifically, to your field of interest?

Given my mechanical engineering background, I entered medical school feeling destined for orthopedic surgery. It felt like the perfect translation of all my knowledge applied to the realm of the human body. I spent my first summer of medical school observing total joint replacement surgeries at NYU’s Hospital for Joint diseases and doing a retrospective chart review. The experience reaffirmed my commitment to orthopedics.

It wasn’t until my third year of medical school when my mother had cataract surgery that I started to consider ophthalmology. Her rapid recovery and ecstatic reaction to her surroundings astounded me. I had never experienced anything like this in my orthopedics externship.

Shortly after, I sought out the advice and mentorship of Dennis Marcus, MD, a retina specialist at the Medical College of Georgia. I started working on a review paper focusing on the role of macular xanthophylls and quickly found myself absorbed by the subject matter. After that, I knew ophthalmology was my future. I signed up for a clinical rotation, and the rest is history.

Please describe your current position.

At the Eye & Lasik Center, my practice primarily focuses on cataract and refractive surgery. I am also currently working at a startup that focuses on promoting on-site vision care at corporations and schools through the use of mobile eye clinics.

Who are your mentors?

I have had numerous mentors along the way, some in an official training capacity and others who happen to be colleagues. The list is long, so I will only share a few. During residency, my clinical skills were honed by an amazing and brilliant group of physicians at Tufts Medical Center, which included Jay Duker, MD; Elias Reichel, MD; Cynthia Mattox, MD; and Helen Wu, MD.

During fellowship, I was further challenged to step outside the student role and become a leader and educator under the mentorship of Douglas Koch, MD; Stephen Pflugfelder, MD; Marshall Hamill, MD; and Mitchell Weikert, MD. Each person stretched me, challenged me, and molded me into a better doctor and individual.

What has been the most memorable experience of your career thus far?

It is a bit of a cliché, but I love going to clinic the day after surgery. It brings me such joy to watch the way patients react to their improved vision. As for specific memorable experiences, I tend to remember only the patients/surgeries that posed a struggle. All perfect cataracts are alike, but each complication is unique in its own way.

What are some new technological advances that you have found particularly exciting? Which advances in the pipeline are you most enthusiastic or curious about?

It is an exciting time to be a refractive and cataract surgeon. We have new tools to optimize visual results for every age demographic, including young patients with refractive errors, presbyopes, and elderly patients with cataracts. New techniques in laser vision correction such as small incision lenticule extraction (SMILE) are providing ways to minimize tissue disruption and preserve corneal biomechanical strength. Presbyopic patients have access to multiple corneal inlay options, such as Raindrop (ReVision Optics) and Kamra (AcuFocus). Cataract patients have a larger array of lens options, including astigmatism-correcting implants, extended depth of focus lenses, and multifocal IOLs, among others. We are at a point where excellent vision at all focal points can be achieved for individuals of all ages.

What is the focus of some of your research?

My current areas of interest include dry eye disease management and refractive cataract surgery. I am also passionate about increasing access to eye care and reducing health disparities through the use of onsite mobile eye clinics.

What is a typical day in your life? What keeps you busy, fulfilled, and passionate?

I am not sure there is such a thing as a typical day for me. I would say my days in private practice feel like they are variations on a common theme—a combination of lovely to challenging personalities and simple to complex pathologies. At the mobile eye care startup, I am focused on forming business partnerships, recruiting talent, and ensuring we have solid processes in place that allow us to become scalable. At the end of the day, I derive satisfaction from the knowledge that I am making a positive impact and my work is inherently meaningful. As ophthalmologists, we are all lucky to be blessed with that!

What advice can you offer to individuals who are just now choosing their career paths after finishing residency or fellowship?

I would emphasize that there is no one perfect path, so don’t focus on what you should be doing. Focus on what you want to be doing. To quote Steve Jobs, “If you are working on something exciting that you really care about, you don’t have to be pushed. The vision pulls you.” This may mean pursuing a fellowship or maybe not. It may mean academia, private practice, industry, the startup space, or something that remains to be conceived. There is no template for success, except a relentless commitment to your passions and curiosities.

Tell us about an innovative procedure you are performing or a new imaging/diagnostic tool that has improved your practice.

Intraoperative wavefront aberrometry has become an integral tool I rely on for determining IOL power in post-refractive surgery patients and ensuring proper lens selection and alignment for my toric lens patients. Like any diagnostic tool, it has its drawbacks. Often, it is challenging to get an accurate reading due to factors such as patient fixation, dryness, inadequate pressurization, pressure from the speculum, and over-hydration of the wound. In the end, it is an extra data point that allows me to make more informed decisions for my patients.

Sumit (Sam) Garg, MD | Section Editor
Sumit (Sam) Garg, MD | Section Editor
  • Vice Chair of Clinical Ophthalmology, Medical Director, Director of Technology, and Assistant Professor of Cataract, Corneal, and Refractive Surgery at the Gavin Herbert Eye Institute, University of California, Irvine
  • samgarg@gmail.com