Dr. Ali is an adjunct faculty member at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco; an ophthalmologist at Sutter Health, Palo Alto Medical Foundation, in Sunnyvale, California; and a medical specialist on contract for Google Health.
1. Please share with us your background.
I’ve lived the multihyphenated American experience, always on the edge of the outside. I was born in New York to Pakistani parents, raised in the Deep South, and since graduating from medical school, have lived in a half dozen states between Southern Florida and Northern California. While being a clinician and a surgeon are now pieces of my identity, the one thing that has always been a part of my core is a love of language, storytelling, and the written word. As narrative medicine gains popularity, the idea that stories have a greater impact than statistics and generalizable data becomes evident. My hope is that the power of story to facilitate health and healing becomes universally and deeply integrated into medical education.
2. What is the focus of your recent research?
My clinical research looks at the use of machine learning to aid in the detection of eye disease, with an immediate focus on diabetic retinopathy and diabetic macular edema. I’m also interested in the ethics of AI as it pertains to health care, with the aim of leveraging health technology to rehumanize the practice of medicine.
A side project—and a topic that is even closer to my heart—is promoting narrative medicine, specifically providing a playbook to cultivate environments that celebrate the creative clinician. Although research suggests that there are qualitative benefits when health care providers engage in medical humanities, assessing the outcomes and sifting through the specific opportunities can be difficult. To make this more confusing, a cohesive framework for the physician creative writer has not been previously published.
To better understand these resources, I’ve joined the leadership of the Pegasus Physician Writers at Stanford University. In conjunction with key members of Medicine & The Muse (Stanford’s medical humanities group), I have helped develop a framework from which to better understand this field. Cultivating and promoting physician writers who add to the public discourse of medicine is crucial for our community (professionally and from a public health perspective). With this in mind, we want participants to come from any angle, whether it be research, scholarship, programming, publishing, or an individual hobby level, and to take away what they need.
3. What has your experience been collaborating with industry?
Not that academics and industry are mutually exclusive, but the younger me, who saw myself as an academician through and through, did not expect to collaborate closely with industry. Instead, my career has taken interesting twists and turns, and I’m grateful for genuine and authentic industry partnerships that continue to put innovative patient care front and center. It is important to develop these relationships and take a seat at the table where we can advocate for our patients and drive the change that is inevitable.
4. In your opinion, how is the role of women in ophthalmology evolving?
Naturally, as the role of women in the workforce and the role of women in medicine change, so does the role of women in ophthalmology. The number of female ophthalmology applicants, residents, and especially those in leadership positions has increased over the past several decades. This means that more women have the opportunity to lead and succeed—but it also means that the expectations we place on ourselves and those that we allow society to place on us continue to rise. Because we are a small community—as ophthalmologists and as female ophthalmologists—we need to support sustainable and healthy growth.
5. What hurdles do you feel women in health care still face?
Women are not given the same respect as men, period. In my experience, it takes women, especially minority women, about 2 years to establish any validity—and that is only awarded if the woman performs above and beyond, nonstop. I still see male medical students and trainees enter a space and immediately be given the mic, a spotlight, and the entire stage. Without using a massively broad brush, this often comes down to three factors: (1) self-confidence (ie, do I believe in myself, and can I overcome imposter syndrome?); (2) accountability (ie, will I be held accountable for what I say, and, if what I’m saying isn’t truthful or accurate, will there be consequences?); and (3) fear of consequences (ie, do I care about being truthful, about my reputation, and about the outcomes of my interactions with my patients and peers?).
Generally, men tend to express greater confidence, be held less accountable, and face fewer consequences than women. Society still has a lot of work to do, because this lack of accountability has a deep and negative impact. Although this plays into the difficulties women face in health care, it extends far beyond our professional lives. Obviously, not all women think one way and men another, and the entirety of a thought process is not all good or all bad. Still, I have come to appreciate my own thought process and wouldn’t want to live my life without accountability or an appreciation for consequences. I can see the benefits of doing so, but it wouldn’t bring me joy, so I’m content befriending my imposter self.
6. What advice can you offer to young female ophthalmologists who are still in training or just beginning their careers?
Don’t chase someone else’s dreams. If you want to work part-time and raise a family, do it. If you want to be persistently at the podium, do it. If you want to have a robust clinical and surgical practice without any research, do it. If you want to pursue a nonclinical path, do it. But remember that nothing is free in this world. In the end, you should strive for balance over a lifetime. Also, keep in mind that your dreams may change and what you learn while chasing them is part of who you are; it wasn’t wasted time or energy. Be ready to embrace that change and to recruit the resources needed to transition through the different stages of your life and career.
7. Can you propose a unique or creative idea that may help women in ophthalmic practices?
Seek out solitude and even sensory deprivation. We are bombarded with news, data, and alerts, and the world is screaming at us that every message is an emergency. It’s vital to remove ourselves from this assault. Having grown up in a Muslim home, I was taught to be part of this world but also to intentionally self-retreat and to use this isolation to connect with a higher purpose, to better understand human nature, and to even think through how to achieve certain dreams. Although many faiths and traditions promote these practices, they are not uniquely religious acts, and science has shown the benefits of seeking solitude.
Because it’s hard for me to pick only one creative idea, I’d also suggest adopting a daily journaling or writing practice. If you’re a visual or auditory artist, then pick a creative medium that speaks to you, and practice it for 10 to 15 minutes per day.
- Liu Xinle, Ali TK, Singh P, et al. Deep learning to detect optical coherence tomography-derived diabetic macular edema from retinal photographs: an international multicenter study. Ophthalmol Retina. 2022;6(5):398-410.
- Schaekermann M, Hammel N, Terry M, et al. Remote tool-based adjudication for grading diabetic retinopathy. Transl Vis Sci Technol. 2019;8(6):40.
- Sallam AB, Kirkland KA, Barry R, et al. A review of antimicrobial therapy for infectious uveitis of the posterior segment. Med Hypothesis Discov Innov Ophthalmol. 2018;7(4):140-155.
- Ali TK, Gibbons A, Cartes C, et al. Use of autologous serum tears for the treatment of ocular surface disease from patients with systemic autoimmune disease. Am J Ophthalmol. 2018;189:65-70.
- Leung E, Gibbons A, Medina CI, et al. Impact of total pars plana vitrectomy on postoperative complications in aphakic, snap-on, type 1 Boston keratoprosthesis. Ophthalmology. 2016;124(10):1504-1509.
- Gibbons A, Ali TK, Warren D, Donaldson K. Causes and correction of dissatisfaction after implantation of presbyopia correcting intraocular lenses. Clin Ophthalmol. 2016:1965-1970.
- Ahmad K, Ali TK. Pain without stain is just that: a pain. MillennialEYE. 2016.
- Ali TK, Pantanelli S. Conjunctivitis. In: Specht C, Laver N, eds. The Infected Eye: Clinical Practice and Pathological Principles. 2016.
- Pantanelli S, Ali TK. Corneal infections. In: Specht C, Laver N, eds. The Infected Eye: Clinical Practice and Pathological Principles. 2016.
- Ali TK, Young RC. Shaken baby syndrome. In: Medina C, ed. Manual of Retinal Disease. Chennai, India: Springer. 2016.
- Ali TK, Young RC. Toxocariasi. In: Medina C, ed. Manual of Retinal Disease. Chennai, India: Springer. 2016.
- Ali TK, Warner D. Recurrent corneal erosions. In: Roy H, ed. Master Techniques in Ophthalmology. Philadelphia, PA: Jaypee Medical. 2015;152-157.
- Anitua E Muruzabal F, Tayebba A, et al. Autologous serum and plasma rich in growth factors in ophthalmology: preclinical and clinical studies. Acta Ophthalmol. 2015;93(8):e605-e614.
- Ali TK, Amescua G, Miller D, et al. Contact-lens-associated purpureocillium keratitis: risk factors, microbiologic characteristics, clinical course, and outcomes. Semin Ophthalmol. 2015;27:1-6.
- Dersu II, Ali TK, Covey SM, et al. Psychomotor vigilance and visual field performance. Semin Ophthalmol. 2015;30:289-296.
- Ali TK, Al-Mohtaseb Z, Ozturk H, et al. Anterior segment manifestations of microscopic polyangiitis. Rheumatology: Current Research. 2015.
- Ali TK, Al-Gayyar MH, Abdelsaid M, et al. Diabetes-induced peroxynitrite impairs the balance of pro-nerve growth factor and nerve growth factor and causes neurovascular injury. Diabetologia. 2011;54(3)657-668.
- Al-Gayyar MMH, Matragoon S, Ali TK, El-Remessy AB. Epicatechin blocks pro-nerve growth factor (proNGF)-mediated retinal neurodegeneration via inhibition of p75 neurotrophin receptor proNGF expression in a rat model of diabetes. Diabetologia. 2011;54(3):669-680.
- Ali TK, El-Remessy AB. Diabetic retinopathy: current management and experimental therapeutic targets. Pharmacotherapy. 2009;29(2):182-192.
- Drel VR, Xu W, Zhang J, et al. Poly(ADP-ribose)polymerase inhibition counteracts cataract formation and early retinal changes in streptozotocin-diabetic rats. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2009;50(4):1778-1790.
- Drel VR, Pacher P, Ali TK, et al. Aldose reductase inhibitor fidarestat counteracts diabetes-associated cataract formation, retinal oxidative-nitrosative stress, glial activation, and apoptosis. Int J Mol Med. 2008;21(6):667-676.
- Ali TK, Matragoon S, Pillai B, Liou GIu, El-Remessy AB. Peroxynitrite mediates retinal neurodegeneration by inhibiting NGF survival signal in experimental and human diabetes. Diabetes. 2008;57(4):889-898.
- Ali TK, Ali IA, El-Remessy AB. Diabetic retinopathy: clinical overview and intervention. J Ophthalmic Medical Technology. 2006;2:2.
PROFESSIONAL SOCIETY MEMBERSHIPS
- American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO)
- American Uveitis Society (AUS)
- Women in Ophthalmology (WIO)
- Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO)
HONORS & AWARDS
- Dean’s Faculty Award, Jones Eye Institute/UAMS | 2017
- Fellow of the Year, Bascom Palmer Eye Institute | 2015
- Outstanding Young Alumna Award, Agnes Scott College | 2015
- Academic Achievement Award Jones Eye Institute | 2011
- Raymond and Mary Morris Ophthalmology Research Award | 2010, 2011
- Elders Community Service Award nominee, UAMS | 2011
- Table Rock Roundup Resident Presentation Award | 2010
- ARVO/National Eye Institute Travel Award | 2007
- Amy Chappell Scholarship | 2007
- Esther Bleich Scholarship | 2007
- Mary Angela Herbin McLennan Medical Fellowship | 2007
1. Exley CL, Kessler JB. The gender gap in self-promotion. National Bureau of Economic Research. Published October 2019. Accessed December 1, 2022. https://www.nber.org/papers/w26345