Keeping an Eye on the Challenges Facing Women in Ophthalmology

Kavitha Sivaraman, M.D., Cincinnati Eye Institute (CEI)


Women often wear many hats – wife/partner, mother, daughter, household manager – the list goes on and on before considering the role of doctor, which is one of the most demanding in terms of time and energy, says Kavitha Sivaraman, M.D., an ophthalmologist specializing in cataract surgery and medical and surgical diseases of the cornea at Cincinnati Eye Institute (CEI) in Blue Ash. Sivaraman recently donned a new hat as founder of a supportive community of women who share this mutual – and challenge-laden – experience.

“The newly-minted Ophthalmic/Optometric Women’s Network (OWN) was created out of a desire to bring together women in eye care from all over the tri-state area and create a sense of community and camaraderie,” she explains. “Our male counterparts certainly juggle many important roles, too – my husband is a prime example – but the challenges women face in the health care sector are distinct, and we hope that OWN will provide a chance to overcome some of those challenges together.”

Sivaraman’s husband is ophthalmologist Fred Chu, M.D., a member of the glaucoma service at CEI. His practice is located in CEI’s Northern Kentucky facility.

The first OWN gathering – a roundtable discussion focused on sharing insights into difficult cases – was held in early March at Greenwich House Gallery in Hyde Park. Presenters were CEI physicians Alison D. Early, M.D.; Laura L. Hanson, M.D.; Ginger L. Henson, M.D.; Alisha G. Kumar, M.D.; Samantha L. Schockman, M.D.; and Mary Beth Yackey, O.D. “We’d like to see this become a regular, city-wide event,” Sivaraman notes.

Sivaraman grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah, completed her undergraduate education at the University of Southern California, and was named valedictorian of her graduating class. She earned her medical degree at Washington University in St. Louis and completed her residency in ophthalmology at the Illinois Eye and Ear Infirmary at the University of Illinois in Chicago, where she served as chief resident during her last year. Sivaraman received her sub-specialty training in cornea, external disease and cataract surgery at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

“I have always been drawn to medicine in general – I wanted to go into the medical field for as long as I can remember,” Sivaraman recalls. “What drew me to ophthalmology is, patients are really vested in their care. Sight is a precious gift and people tend to take eye issues seriously, so compliance tends to be better. It’s a very gratifying field. The eye is a fascinating organ; there is still so much we don’t understand, so there is lots of research involved.”

And research is of great interest to Sivaraman. She is regularly involved in clinical and scientific research, with a specific focus on ocular surface disease and artificial corneas. She has authored many peer-reviewed publications, textbook chapters and has often presented her work at national meetings.

Sivaraman is currently involved in the Zoster Eye Disease Study (ZEDS) in an attempt to determine the best treatment for reducing the complications of herpes zoster ophthalmicus (HZO), also known as shingles of the eye. “Shingles is the chicken pox virus many people had when they were kids, and it can reactivate later in life,” she explains. “When it does, it can affect the nerves, eyes and skin on the upper side of the face. A lot of times, it’s just a one-and-done rash. But in a small subset of patients, an outbreak of shingles becomes a recurrent eye disease, which can cause vision loss due to scarring, glaucoma and other complications.”

According to Sivaraman, the study is examining if a low dose of antiviral treatment taken by mouth for one year reduces complications of the varicella zoster virus, including eye disease and chronic pain. This antiviral medication has been approved for many years for the short-term treatment of acute zoster/shingles and other viral infections, and has an excellent safety record, she points out.

“Research is where innovation happens, and it’s one of the many great aspects of our practice at CEI,” Sivaraman says.

For Sivaraman, the best part of being an ophthalmologist is being able to allay someone’s fears and anxieties regarding medical issues.

“Our son was born early, and I was hospitalized at the same time he was – that really changed my perspective on what I do. It made me a better doctor,” she says.

With chronic eye conditions, people often voice their concerns, worried that they may no longer be able to drive or – worst case scenario – they may lose their sight completely, she notes.

“I am very aware that every patient I see is someone’s mom or dad or son or daughter. My doctors listened to my concerns and reassured me, and I think having the opportunity to be that reassuring person for someone else is special. I feel privileged to do that. Sometimes in medicine, despite everyone’s best efforts, the outcome is not what we want. But at the end of the day, I think that the personal relationship between doctor and patient is key.”


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