A sea of black and white glistened before my eyes as I played the final cadenza at the Peabody Institute. I squinted through the bright stage lights to see the loving faces of friends, family, and faculty gathered to celebrate my nine years here. As I bowed to thank everyone for their support, I blinked, attempting to perceive a difference in vision between my two eyes. None - I rejoiced on the inside.
Months ago, I could never have imagined that proud moment as I laid in a local ER stretcher, unable to see more than faint light through the bloody haze of a hyphema. A badminton racket had flown into my right eye during practice and surely I was going to be blind, I thought. Never could I have envisioned performing a solo piano recital again so soon. The prompt treatment, careful follow-up, and compassionate care I received at the eye clinic kept my vision intact. Just four weeks after my injury, my ophthalmologist joyfully explained that I had healed completely. I left the office with inexplicable admiration for the physician that had saved my most precious sense.
I crossed paths with ophthalmology again as a Duke Biomedical Engineering student. I was selected for the prestigious Pratt Fellows program, where I spent my junior and senior year as an independent research student in one of the world’s premier ultrasound labs. Here, I designed a device to automatically capture a 3D image of a prostate in seconds and used ultrasound to noninvasively classify and stage tumors grown in mice. While studying OCT for a medical imaging course, I ran computer code to process images of the human retina from patients at Duke Hospital. However, as I gazed at the optic cup of patient #09043 on the monitor, my heart yearned to replace that void with a name and a face.
In medical school, I connected with the Ophthalmology Interest group and assisted with local vision screenings to promote vision health and awareness. Because of my extensive research experiences at Duke, NIH, Johns Hopkins and other institutions, I knew it was time for me to pursue a global perspective on disparities in healthcare. Upon completion of first year, I elected to spend a summer abroad in Guatemala. Working in village clinics around Lake Atitlán, a place where over ten thousand Mayan villagers lack access to healthcare, we frequently encountered patients with ocular complaints. Here, I became comfortable with direct ophthalmoscopy, administering eye drops, and prescribing antibiotics for basic eye disease. Nevertheless, we lacked the resources to treat more severe disease that required a referral to Guatemala City, a place where few villagers would have the financial resources to travel to, much rather pay to see an ophthalmologist.
I entered my clinical training with renewed vigor and empathy for the patient side of medicine. I discovered that my former piano training translated well to the operating room, as I often received praise for my fine motor skills. In the outpatient setting, I called upon my experience as an academic tutor to explain complex ophthalmology procedures and diseases through drawings that my patients could understand while the laser was warming up. In Philadelphia, where non-English speakers comprise a significant population, my language skills in Mandarin and Spanish would often be requested by multiple attendings simultaneously during busy clinics.
Hearing the story of a young bartender whose eye was injured by a stray bottle and following his reconstruction recovery or being the first to diagnose a stroke in a patient with ocular symptoms are just small examples of how satisfying ophthalmology can be daily. Whether surgeon or artist, the moment the intraocular lens is injected and unfolds to sit perfectly in the patient’s eye during cataract surgery is reminiscent of hitting the final notes of a Chopin concerto, an immaculate denouement to an arduous voyage. As an ophthalmologist, I can be teacher, counselor, PCP, and surgeon for my patients all at the same time.
My propensity for solving complex problems while performing intricate work with my hands drives me to pursue residency in ophthalmology. My unique life experiences have shaped me into a compassionate and resilient individual who can truly empathize, advocate, and conquer the most difficult circumstances. I am looking for a residency program that can refine a former classical pianist and engineer into a dexterous microsurgeon and scientist who humbly gives back to his patients in his community and abroad.