Dr. Zhu is Medical Director and Partner at NVISION Eye Centers in Rowland Heights, California.
1. Please share with us your background.
Like many first-generation immigrants to America, I came from humble beginnings. I was born in Shanghai, China, and when I turned 3, my parents relocated us to the United States during the Tiananmen Square protests and massacre in search of better opportunities. Those early years were hard: I remember waking up home alone often as my parents went to school and worked through most nights and weekends. One Thanksgiving when I was 7 years old, my dad left suddenly, leaving my mom to raise a child in a foreign land on her own. She continued working several part-time jobs waitressing in Chinese restaurants while studying English and accounting for a few years before finally achieving her dream of getting a full-time office job as a bookkeeper for a small Chinese company.
Watching my mom work so tirelessly, I focused my efforts on doing well in school. Luckily, schoolwork and exams came easily to me, and I ended up graduating top of my class as high school Valedictorian. I attended UCLA on a full-tuition Regents scholarship and graduated summa cum laude with a degree in molecular, cell, and developmental biology. I was then lucky enough to receive my medical degree from Harvard Medical School, where I discovered my love of ophthalmology and performed cutting-edge research on corneal immunology at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary under the mentorship of James Chodosh, MD, MPH. As a medical student, I cofounded the Medical Mandarin course for doctors in training, and I embarked on a medical mission with Operation Burns in Mumbai, India, where I worked alongside plastic surgeons to treat burn victims with debilitating skin and eyelid contractures. I then returned to Southern California to complete my ophthalmology residency at Doheny Eye Institute/University of Southern California (USC) & Los Angeles County Medical Center, where I served a predominantly Latino community and cared for the sickest patients at one of the largest public hospitals in the country. I then completed my fellowship training in cornea and refractive surgery at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in Miami.
Immediately after graduation and with little refractive surgery experience, I partnered with NVISION Eye Centers to buy a large cataract and refractive practice in my hometown of Rowland Heights in Southern California, where I currently serve as the Medical Director and sole surgeon. I also serve as clinical faculty for the Los Angeles County + USC Department of Ophthalmology, the Marshall B. Ketchum University/School of Optometry, and the Western University College of Osteopathic Medicine.
2. What is the focus of your recent research?
Because I perform a high volume of femtosecond laser-assisted surgeries in a premium refractive practice, most of my research focuses on presbyopia-correcting technologies. In my second year of practice, the first trifocal IOL (PanOptix, Alcon) was approved by the FDA, and I became one of the first surgeons in Los Angeles to implant the lens. My first investigator-initiated trial focused on clinical outcomes and patient satisfaction following bilateral refractive lens exchange with the PanOptix IOL, and I was awarded the Best Paper of Session at ASCRS for this work. I am now studying similar outcomes for the new Clareon Vivity IOL (Alcon), which I was honored to be one of the first surgeons in the country to implant earlier this year. Most recently, I completed a meta-analysis evaluating the complete spectacle independence rate of patients implanted bilaterally with the PanOptix lens during cataract surgery, which will be presented at the 2022 ESCRS annual meeting. Because I also perform office-based cataract surgery using oral sedation, I recently participated in my first FDA investigation analyzing the safety and efficacy of using oral midazolam and ketamine for cataract surgery sedation in a phase 2 study. I also do research on dry eye disease and recently presented a post-hoc analysis at the 2022 Women in Ophthalmology (WIO) meeting evaluating the effect of the first FDA-approved nasal spray (varenicline solution [Tyrvaya, Oyster Point Pharma) for the treatment of dry eye disease in postmenopausal versus non-postmenopausal women.
On a more fun note, because I am passionate about social media and ophthalmology, I’ve published three papers on the topic this year and have several more in the works. As more patients turn to social media for health information in today’s digital age, it is more important than ever to evaluate the content that is being shared online. I am hopeful that my research provides some guidance to ophthalmologists on how we can battle misinformation and better educate the greater public. One of my research studies also highlights how ophthalmologists are using social media for both personal and professional development and reaffirmed that women are using social media to overcome challenges outside of the workplace, including for work-life balance and parenting. Other medical specialties recognized the power of social media a while ago, and thankfully ophthalmology is catching on. It was wonderful to see ASCRS invite Will Flanary, MD (AKA Dr. Glaucomflecken), as the keynote speaker for their annual meeting this year, and it was a career highlight for me to speak about the power of social media alongside him on the main stage!
Finally, I must thank all the medical students and residents who have worked with me to make this research possible. Many younger ophthalmologists are under the impression that research is only doable in an academic setting, but I have found that private practice allows for excellent research and teaching experiences as well.
3. What has your experience been collaborating with industry?
My experience working with industry has been nothing short of phenomenal. We cannot achieve innovation within ophthalmology without the continuous collaboration between doctors and industry. I am grateful to industry leaders for listening to our feedback and enlisting our guidance to help create the best treatments possible for patients. I have had the privilege of working closely with the medical affairs teams of various companies to help guide them on executing high-quality, well-designed studies, and I have worked with their marketing and communications teams to help educate patients and colleagues through advisory boards, speaking engagements, and social media campaigns. It has been a great learning experience to be a part of several product launches. Through these diverse interactions, I have strengthened my own research and analytical skills as well as my public speaking and communication skills. Working with industry and startups has also compelled me to think more critically not only as a clinician but as an innovator and entrepreneur. “How can we do better?” is a question we should all be asking.
4. In your opinion, how is the role of women in ophthalmology evolving?
Last year, I launched Mend the Gap, the first-ever Healio podcast aimed at exploring and tackling gender disparities in medicine, which I cohost with some of my biggest inspirations in ophthalmology: Cathleen McCabe, MD; Laura Periman, MD; Laura Enyedi, MD; and Susan McDonald, MD. On one of our first episodes, “The View From Above: On Breaking the Glass Ceiling with Dr. Tamara Fountain,” Dr. Fountain and Dr. McCabe shared what it was like to be one of the few women in ophthalmology early on. They described having to tone down their femininity in an attempt to join the “boys’ club” in hopes that they would be accepted as ophthalmologists.
Today, women have not only been accepted as ophthalmologists, but they’ve become so much more than that. We are researchers, innovators, mothers, side-hustlers, teachers, business owners, and leaders. Even though we may not always feel like it, women truly do it all!
5. What hurdles do you feel women in health care still face?
Before becoming a practicing ophthalmologist, I was oblivious to the gender disparities that still exist today. In residency, five out of six of us were women. In fellowship, three out of four of us were women. So I worked and lived every day believing that gender inequality in medicine was a relic of the past. But that all changed once I graduated and attended my first job interview, during which I was bluntly asked by a male surgeon, “When are you planning to get pregnant?” This was the first time I realized I was being judged not by my surgical skills but by my ability to bear children. My gender was a liability. That was a wakeup call.
I have since shared my experiences many times through social media and different forums related to gender inequity. I published an article last year on Doximity highlighting how gender biases may contribute to the gender pay gap, which has now been identified in numerous studies. With the increasing number of female graduates, I have no doubt that the number of practicing women ophthalmologists will soon equal or even exceed that of male ophthalmologists, but the proportion of women ophthalmologists in leadership positions within professional societies, academic centers, editorial boards, and private practices (as owners) will take time to grow. Still, I feel so grateful to be a woman in ophthalmology today because I stand on the shoulders of queens—thank you for paving the way!
6. What advice can you offer to young female ophthalmologists who are still in training or just beginning their careers?
My first year in practice, I wore a white coat over a professional dress and heels almost every day to assert myself as the surgeon. It didn’t stop the questions and skepticism related to my age and appearance. Nowadays, I operate so much that I wear scrubs 24/7, and surprisingly I get questioned far less! Not only do I feel more comfortable in scrubs, but I also feel more confident in my own skin, and I think patients can sense that. How you present yourself is far more important than what you wear. In fact, one study showed that women physicians were perceived as less professional than their male counterparts regardless of what they wore. Try to build your confidence from day one, and don’t be afraid to fake it ‘til you make it! You have worked hard to get to where you are today, and no one can take that away from you.
7. Can you propose a unique or creative idea that may help women in ophthalmic practices?
Convince your boss to allow you to create your own schedule (or be your own boss!). After I became a first-time mom in the middle of the pandemic in 2020, I went from working 5 days a week to 4 days a week. Instead of producing less, our practice became more efficient and more profitable. I accomplish more in those 4 days than I ever did working 5, and this schedule has helped me to be present for my family and to nurture other parts of my career that bring me incredible joy, like research and speaking. I have also worked and operated every Saturday since starting work, and I surprisingly enjoy it as it sets our practice apart from others in a competitive market and allows me to run errands during the week. Women are so good at multitasking—you just need to keep an open mind and stay flexible!
- Bae H, Zhao L, Zhu D, et al. Variability among 10 production lots of a single demineralized bone matrix product. J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2010;92:427-435.
- Zhu D, Berry J, Ediriwickrema L, et al. Long-term outcomes of group B eyes in patients with retinoblastoma treated with short-course chemoreduction: experience from Children’s Hospital Los Angeles/University of Southern California. Ocul Oncol Pathol. 2015;2(2):105-111.
- Sinha I, Zhu D, Ojomo K, Gfrer L, et al. Functional and subjective assessment of burn contracture release in a mission setting. Burns. 2016;42(2):466-470.
- Zhu D, Ameri HA, Reznik A, Rao NA. Acute hypotony maculopathy following the initiation of a topical aqueous suppressant in a patient with a history of panuveitis without previous filtering surgery. Am J Ophthalmol Case Rep. 2017;7:95-98.
- Shah P, Zhu D, Culbertson W. Therapeutic femtosecond laser-assisted lamellar keratectomy for multi-drug resistant nocardia keratitis. Cornea. 2017; 36(11):1429-1431.
- Zhu D, Shah P, Feuer WJ, Shi W, Koo E. Outcomes of conventional phacoemulsification versus femtosecond laser assisted cataract surgery in eyes with Fuchs endothelial corneal dystrophy. J Cataract Refract Surg. 2018;44(5):534-540.
- Huang, A, Abdullah A, Chen K, Zhu D. Ophthalmology and social media: an in-depth investigation of ophthalmologic content on Instagram. Clin Ophthalmol. 2022;2022(16):685-694.
- Yim CK, Zhu D. Central toxic keratopathy in siblings after laser-assisted keratomileusis: case report and literature review. Cornea. 2022;41(5):640-643.
- He B, Tanya SM, Costello F, et al. Navigating personal and professional development through social media in ophthalmology. Clin Ophthalmol. 2022;16:2263-2274.
- Dave AD, Zhu D. Ophthalmology inquiries on Reddit: what should physicians know? Clin Ophthalmol. 2022;16:2923-2931.
- Mehta N, Zhu D, Berry J. Open globe surgical outcome characterization from an urban tertiary trauma center. In press.
- Park J, Zhu D, et al. A retrospective review of the Instagram campaign #VerifyHealthcare: urging transparency for healthcare professionals on social media. Submitted for publication.
- Hsueh J, Zhu D. Characterizing top ophthalmology accounts on social media. American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery Meeting Las Vegas, NV 2021. Submitted for publication.
- Yim C, Dave A, Strawn A, et al. Visual outcomes and patient satisfaction after bilateral refractive lens exchange with a trifocal intraocular lens in presbyopic patients. Submitted for publication.
- Zhu D, Ren S, Mills K, Hull J, Dhariwal M. Rate of complete spectacle independence with a trifocal intraocular lens (PanOptix): a systematic literature review and meta-analysis. Submitted for publication.
- Nijm LM, Zhu D, Hemphill M, Blemker G, Hendrix L, Gibson A. Efficacy of OC-01 (varenicline solution) nasal spray for dry eye disease in pre- and post-menopausal women: post hoc analysis of data from the ONSET-1 and -2 Trials. Submitted for publication.
PROFESSIONAL SOCIETY MEMBERSHIPS
- American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO)
- American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery (ASCRS)
- Women in Ophthalmology (WIO)
- Cornea Society
- Refractive Surgery Alliance (RSA)
- Ophthalmic World Leaders (OWL)
- Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO)
HONORS & AWARDS
- Top 40 Under 40, Ophthalmology Management | 2022
- Southern California Rising Star, Super Doctors Magazine | 2022
- Top 50 Global KOL Influencer in Ophthalmology, MediaMice | 2021
- Best Paper of Session: “Visual Outcomes and Patient Satisfaction after Bilateral Refractive Lens Exchange with a Trifocal Intraocular Lens in Presbyopic Patients,” ASCRS Annual Meeting | 2021
- Top 50 Unsung Hero, Asian Hustle Network | 2021
- Rising Star in Ophthalmology, Rising Eye Stars | 2020
- Woman of Distinction, California State Senator Ling Ling Chang | 2020
- USC Ophthalmology Knowledge Award (Highest OKAP Exam Scores in Residency Class) | 2015
- Nesburn Research Award for Outstanding Resident Research | 2014
- USC Eye Institute Clinical Case Conference Award (Best Case Presentation in Residency Class) | 2013
- ARVO Research Travel Award, Ocular Immunology and Uveitis Foundation | 2010
- Chancellor’s Service Award, UCLA | 2008
- Phi Beta Kappa, UCLA | 2008
- Summa Cum Laude, UCLA | 2008
- College Honors, UCLA | 2004–2008
- University of California Regents Scholar (Full-Tuition Scholarship), UCLA | 2004–2008
- Dean’s Prize Honoring Outstanding Undergraduate Researchers, UCLA | 2006
- Valedictorian, John A. Rowland High School | 2004
- Robert C. Byrd Honors Scholar | 2004
- Rose Hills Foundation Scholar | 2004