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  • Unsung Heroes: Elizabeth A. Hodapp, MD

    Nov. 12, 2020

    In choosing ophthalmology as her profession, Elizabeth Hodapp, MD, was initially attracted by the “pretty pictures, especially of the iris”—but even more by the demeanor of the physician residents she observed.

    The ophthalmology residents seemed happier than those in other specialties. In her subsequent career as a pediatric glaucoma specialist at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in Miami, Dr. Hodapp has come to appreciate the deeper satisfaction inherent in caring for her young patients and establishing strong relationships with their families.

    “The family is key to how a child does,” she said, noting the critical role parents play in the success of a child’s regimen of medication, patching, and follow-up. “The three-way relationship—parent, child, doctor—is something that you really want to start right from the beginning.”

    She acknowledged that “laying the therapeutic groundwork” for a chronic childhood disease like glaucoma can be challenging because “parents are often feeling guilty, feeling afraid. It’s really important to be quite careful with their feelings, but also to get on with taking care of the child.”

    One of the rewarding aspects of her work is when, years later, “a parent will recognize me and give me a great big hug for taking care of their child. And I particularly enjoy the cases where the child couldn’t care less about me. I want the children who are operated on to just go out and live their lives, not to sit around and think about the wonderful doctors.”

    Her colleague Audina M. Berrocal, MD, said that Dr. Hodapp “has taught me a lot about being an outstanding physician and surgeon.” She described Dr. Hodapp as a mentor who is tough but caring. “She is demanding of herself and others, but her quiet compassion is unique.”

    Dr. Berrocal recalled a time when she was discouraged and even thought of quitting the field of pediatric retina after a particularly difficult case. But Dr. Hodapp made a point of showing Dr. Berrocal a patient that Dr. Berrocal had previously treated successfully, saying, “Look at this one. What you’re doing means something.” Dr. Berrocal said, “Dr. Hodapp kept me going when life was hard.”

    She also cited Dr. Hodapp’s gift for “cutting right to the heart” of complex cases in training residents and physicians who have advanced to fellowships. “There are so many variables and things to get lost in when managing these patients. She sees right through it to get you to the most important point.”

    The advice that Dr. Hodapp gives to residents and young ophthalmologists demonstrates this ability to home in on the essentials: “Be hard enough on yourself. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Everybody makes mistakes. Do the best you can. Keep good records, and tell the truth.”  

    Ophthalmology has an abundance of unsung heroes who save sight, sometimes overcoming great challenges to deliver medical and surgical eye care. During 2020: Year of the Eye, the Academy is featuring stories about some of these heroes. Their colleagues nominated them for quietly serving the underserved, mentoring the next generation and sharing their skills with the world.