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One To Watch | July/Aug '20

One to Watch:
Usiwoma Abugo, MD

Dr. Abugo is an ophthalmologist at Virginia Eye Consultants in Norfolk, Virginia, where she specializes in oculoplastic surgery.

Please share with us your background.

I grew up in a large family in Maryland before traveling all across the United States for my education. My academic journey took me from Indiana and Illinois for my undergraduate program and medical school; to upstate New York for a transitional residency; to Washington, DC, for ophthalmology residency; and to California for my combined neuro-ophthalmology and oculoplastics fellowship.

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

When I was a medical student, my classmates and I were able to test a range of medical equipment on various volunteers. The day came for us to test the direct ophthalmoscope, and I remember the ophthalmologist instructor telling us not to worry if we couldn’t get a clear picture of the optic nerve. I then proceeded to get the clearest, most striking view I had seen in my career up to that point, and I knew it was meant to be. The back of the eye was beautiful, and I knew I could look at it for the rest of my life. After that experience, I volunteered at every ophthalmology event I could, and I fell in love.

During my transitional year residency, I rotated through general plastic surgery. Late one night, while operating on one flap while the attending operated on the other, I realized that I couldn’t get enough of plastic surgery. I had found the one thing that I didn’t watch the clock for, as an early mentor of mine had once advised. I had discovered my true passion, and this realization led me to where I am today.

Please describe your current position.

I am currently practicing oculoplastic surgery at Virginia Eye Consultants in Norfolk, Virginia. I am also an assistant professor of ophthalmology at Eastern Virginia Medical School.

Who are your mentors?

I have so many mentors, which is a good thing! My forever mentor would have to be Mildred Olivier, MD. She is the reason that I am an ophthalmologist today. Her kindness and advocacy for me as a medical student set me on the trajectory that I am still on currently. She taught me what it truly means to be a mentor. There are many other women in ophthalmology whom I consider mentors, including Tamara Fountain, MD; Erin Shriver, MD, FACS; Kimberly Cockerham, MD, FACS; Roberta Gausas, MD; and Nikisha Richards, MD, to name a few.

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

There have been several, but I have been privileged to follow in my own mentors’ footsteps and successfully mentor many medical students through the ophthalmology match process. Some have reached out to me through my social media platform (@MentorMeMD), and others have reached out to me at conferences and on rotations. My most memorable experiences are getting the messages from my mentees when they match into ophthalmology!

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

From a mentorship standpoint, I am incredibly excited about the Virtual Ophthalmology Mentorship program that was cofounded by Andrea Tooley, MD; Janice Law, MD; and me. There is such a need for mentorship at this time in history, when students must prove themselves before the application process but their opportunities for external rotations and mentorship are limited due to COVID-19 restrictions. Through the Virtual Ophthalmology Mentorship program, we are providing resources to these students and connecting them with mentors. We are in the very early stages of this program and hope for great things in the future. If you would like to be a mentor or mentee in this groundbreaking program, please contact us at virtualomp@gmail.com.

What is the focus of some of your research?

Because mentorship is a main passion of mine, I am currently researching ways to connect with medical students in need and how to equip them with the tools for success.

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

My typical day starts with a Pure Barre workout, followed by a time of devotion and prayer to set my mind right. Then, depending on the day, I head to clinic, the minor OR, the ambulatory surgery center, or the hospital for a general case. Every day is different, and I enjoy the diversity. Outside of work, I enjoy exploring Virginia Beach and hanging out with family and friends. I also spend some weekends doing service projects in the community. I personally feel that every interaction with someone outside of ourselves is important, so we must make them all count. The greatest fulfillment we can get is in service to others.

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

I would advise them to think about the life that they imagine themselves having in 5 or 10 years. Will the steps that they are taking now help them get to that point? The goal may not be attainable at the moment, but it is never too early to start laying the groundwork for your future. Also, speak up. Talk to the people you trust about your decisions, especially those who have taken the path you are planning to take. Advice from those with relevant experience is invaluable.

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

One of the tools I love to use in my practice is the CO2 resurfacing laser. As an aesthetic surgeon, this treatment has been an invaluable adjunct to my surgeries, and it can be catered to each patient’s needs. One of my focuses in my practice is skincare for skin of color. I am enjoying finding out how these types of modalities that haven’t traditionally been used on skin of color can be utilized in a safe and effective way.