Ophthalmologist Seema Verma has been appointed to the new role of chief medical officer at Optegra Eye Health Care. She talks with OT .
Can you tell me a little bit about your background?
I have been fortunate to enjoy many highlights in my career. These include the milestones of graduating as a doctor, having the opportunity to work towards my MD thesis on addressing pain and wound healing following excimer laser treatment as well as being appointed a consultant surgeon at Moorfields Eye Hospital to the cataract, general ophthalmology and Accident & Emergency (A&E) services. I was the first ophthalmologist in the UK to lead an emergency eye care service and went on to co-found the British Emergency Eye Care Society.
What do you find rewarding about working in eye health?
For many people, the sense they most value is their eyesight. It gives them independence. If you lose your eyesight, I think there is that fear that you will become dependent or you won't be able to navigate through life without help.
Working in ophthalmology and operating on patients you see the transformation in patients when you help with their vision. The commonest operation, which is cataracts, gives the surgeon and the patient immediate results. It is life-changing for most of them.
What advice would you give to yourself at 18?
I think that the advice I would give myself is just to follow your dreams and don't give up. I wanted to be a doctor, which I did. I wanted to go into an area of medicine that involved surgery – I knew that very, very early on.
When I discovered ophthalmology it ticked both the boxes. I had a friend who was specialising in ophthalmology when I qualified from University College London. One day I went to observe him operate and I thought, 'Wow this is an amazing operation.' That is where my interest in ophthalmology started.
I think it is an amazing privilege to be a doctor. Patients confide in you and put their trust in you. As a doctor and as a surgeon, I find it so satisfying.
If you could choose anyone, living or dead, to invite to a dinner party, who would you pick?
One of the people that I respect is Gandhi. He inspired many people to join together and make a change for India. There is a quote from Gandhi that I use every time people ask me why did you go into ophthalmic A&E: "Be the change you want to see in the world."
That's what I have done. I went into ophthalmic A&E when no one else was doing it and others followed. In 2013, we formed the British Emergency Eye Care Society. Last year the Royal College of Ophthalmologists recognised emergency ophthalmology as a sub-specialty. I feel like I've achieved something for my field.
What interested you about applying to become Chief Medical Officer for Optegra?
After working as a consultant at Moorfields for 16 years, I felt like I wanted a new challenge. I think the whole geography of ophthalmology is changing. The NHS is a massive machine. To bring about any kind of change, there is a real lag. With Optegra being a smaller organisation, I am hoping that we can push through change that improves patient experience and the quality of care in a much faster way.