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Outstanding Female Leader in Ophthalmology | Nov/Dec '17

Outstanding Female Leader in Ophthalmology: Leela Raju, MD

Dr. Raju is Chief of the Ophthalmology Service at Bellevue Hospital and a Clinical Associate Professor at NYU Langone Health in New York, New York.

Please share with us your background.

I grew up in Morgantown, West Virginia. My parents moved there in the late 70s, as my father, VK, was recruited to West Virginia University’s ophthalmology department after his cornea training in London. My parents both grew up in India, where my mom, Rani, earned a master’s degree in English before joining my dad in London; this meant grammar was corrected at school ... and at home. My brother, Ashok, and I were very lucky that she was able to spend so much time with us, as we both played competitive tennis growing up. This led to my attending Brown University, where I was on the varsity team.

I went to Marshall University for medical school and then completed residency and a cornea fellowship at the University of Pittsburgh and Baylor University, respectively. I returned to the University of Pittsburgh, where I served as Vice Chair for a couple years, before trying out the world of private practice in Brooklyn, New York. However, I found I missed the camaraderie and atmosphere of academics and joined New York University about a year ago.

Throughout all this I have been involved in international outreach with the Eye Foundation of America (EFA), a nonprofit my father started when he first came to the United States. I travel frequently to India, where we help support an eye hospital, the Goutami Eye Institute, that has strong community and school-children screening programs and is screening and treating all the premature babies in the area. EFA also supports a very active program in Ghana, which I was fortunate to visit in October.

What is the focus of your current research?

I feel that herpes simplex virus is underdiagnosed and has a greater morbidity than realized. I am working to prove what I think many cornea specialists do based on anecdotal evidence: utilize both oral antivirals and topical steroids to prevent recurrent episodes leading to vision loss. I also have a strong clinical interest in ocular surface disease and stem cell transplantation as well as international ophthalmology and the impact of preventive ophthalmic interventions in developing countries.

What has your experience been collaborating with industry?

I think nurturing the ability to exchange ideas between physicians and industry is an important part of moving ophthalmology forward. I have been lucky to meet industry members who were interested in learning about what is needed on the clinical side and my feedback on what is presently available. I also do a lot of volunteer work internationally, and the industry’s generosity is always amazing.

In your opinion, how is the role of women in ophthalmology evolving?

The fact that women now make up almost half of residencies shows that the makeup of the future of ophthalmology is going to be different. I expect to see even more women as key opinion leaders and in leadership positions as time goes on.

What, if any, hurdles do you feel women in health care still face?

Being a doctor takes a great deal of your time, even when you’re not in front of a patient. The ability to find the appropriate time for other important aspects of your life—family and friends; other responsibilities related to your job; sleep; your interests that make you, you—may end up getting pushed aside. This is an issue with any job, but many women may feel the family portion of their life often depends mostly on them, and there are only so many hours in the day. The other thing that many of us many not want to think about as often is the fact that we are typically paid less or reimbursed less than our male colleagues; while there has been a lot of debate as to why, perhaps it’s more important for us to start realizing we need to start making sure we’re getting paid for the quality work being done. Asking the questions can’t be taboo.

What advice can you offer to young female ophthalmologists who are still in training or just beginning their careers?

Seek out mentors—men or women—and don’t be hesitant about asking for the things you’re interested in, whether it’s becoming involved in teaching, joining a committee, or being considered for an administrative position. I think there are still a lot of assumptions that women may not want the responsibility for something outside of patient care, so we may need to start asking for it. But we also need to be able to realize when we may be spread thin and are doing things that aren’t helping us be better doctors or people and be able to say no. It’s a fine line.

Can you propose a unique or creative idea that may help women in ophthalmic practices?

It’s not terribly creative, but I would reach out to other women who you think have accomplished or are working toward what you’d like to do. See if you can bounce ideas off each other. We should use our collective brain power to make work more fun and effective where possible.


Raju VK, Raju LV. Musings on Medicine, Myth, and History: India’s Legacy. Morgantown, Virginia: Eye Foundation of America; 2017.

Al-Mohtaseb Z, Raju LV, Wang L, Weikert MP, Koch DD. Incisional keratotomy. In: Holland E, ed. Cornea. 3rd ed. St. Louis, Missouri: Mosby; 2016.

Chang V, Dhaliwal DK, Raju LV, Kowalski RP. Is antibiotic resistance a major problem in the treatment of Staphylococcus aureus keratitis? A 20-year review. Cornea. 2015;34(6):698-703.

Swamynathan S, Delp EE, Harvey SAK, Loughner CL, Raju L, Shivalingappa K. Corneal expression of SLURP-1 by age, gender, genetic strain and ocular surface health. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2015;56(13):7888-7896.

Kowalski RP, Karenchak LM, Raju LV, Ismail N. The verification of nucleic acid amplification testing (Gen-Probe Aptima Assay) for chlamydia trachomatis from ocular samples. Ophthalmology. 2015;122(2):244-247.

Mesiwala NK, Chu, CT, Raju LV. Infectious crystalline keratopathy predominantly affecting the posterior cornea. Int J Clin Exp Pathol. 2014;7(8):5250-5253.

Knickelbein JE, Singh A, Flowers BE, et al. Acute corneal edema with subsequent thinning and hyperopic shift following selective laser trabeculoplasty. J Cataract Refract Surg. 2014;40(10):1731-1735.

Nau AC, Drexler S, Dhaliwal DK, Mah F, Raju L, Deschler E. Contact lens fitting and long-term management for the Boston keratoprosthesis. Eye Contact Lens. 2014;40(3):185-189.

Kowalski RP, Abdel Aziz S, Romanowski EG, Shanks RM, Nau AC, Raju LV. Development of a practical complete-kill assay to evaluate anti-Acanthamoeba drugs. JAMA Ophthalmol. 2013;131(11):1459-1462.

Raju VK, Raju LV, Kheirkhah A. Demodex blepharitis. Ophthalmology. 2012;119(1):200.

Hilton S, Ghanta M, Raju LV, Raju VK. Visual acuity. In: Nema HV, ed. Recent Advances in Ophthalmology. India: Jaypee Brothers Medical Publishers; 2006.

Kahook MY, Raju LV, Schuman JS, Noecker RJ. Iris retraction syndrome after clear cornea phacoemulsification. The Internet Journal of Ophthalmology and Visual Science. 2004;3(2).


• American Medical Association | 1999 to Present

• American Academy of Family Practitioners | 1999 to 2003

• American Academy of Ophthalmology | 2005 to Present

• Pittsburgh Ophthalmic Society | 2005 to 2014

• American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery 2006 to Present

• Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology 2006 to 2008

• Pennsylvania Academy of Ophthalmology | 2010 to 2014


• Resident Teaching Award, University of Pittsburgh | 2012

• Senior Resident Research Award, University of Pittsburgh | 2008

• Spurlock Fellowship, Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center, West Virginia University | 1996