• Beyond the Clinic

    • Aug 16, 2017

    Ophthalmologists have a passion for their specialty and a strong desire to help patients. Yet throughout history we can also find physicians who felt a desire to put aside their medical training and pursue an unrelated career. This exhibit features ophthalmologists whose extraordinary efforts have been recognized by their colleagues – both in ophthalmology and in their lives beyond the clinic.


    In every age there are people who choose to act for the greater good even as their actions put their lives in danger. Some would say they are foolhardy but history has seen fit to call them heroes. Ophthalmology can be proud that it has these individuals in its past.

    • Jose Rizal, MD (1861-1896)

      Jose Rizal, MD published two satirical novels, the first published March 21, 1887. These found their way into the hands of disaffected Filipino nationalists and became a rallying cry for an independent Philippines.

    • Charles Schepens, MD (1912-2006)

      Charles Schepens, MD was an operative of the Belgian resistance during WWII. Dr. Schepens and his family’s miraculous escape from capture, not once but twice, is a testament to their belief in their work against Nazi Germany.


    If the eyes are the windows to the soul, then ophthalmologists may be uniquely qualified to be writers – particularly if that soul is filled with secrets and mystery. Ophthalmologist and novelist Robin Cook once noted that medicine “gives you the experience of people in crises and all good writing is character driven.”

    • Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930)

      Arguably the most famous ophthalmologist-turned author is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930). He is, of course, best known for his fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes, whose stories are still being told in movies and television today. Medical themes and personalities frequent Doyle’s stories. In addition to Dr. Watson, Doyle included over 27 physicians in his works. Two of the Sherlock Holmes stories relate directly to ophthalmology, as do several of his non-Sherlockian works.

    • Cataract knife surgical set, c1900

      In “Silver Blaze” (1892), Sherlock Holmes investigates the disappearance of a race horse and the murder of its trainer. In the story, a cataract knife is used to harm the leg of a horse. The knife, described in detail, is similar to ones in our collection: “an ivory-handled knife with a very delicate, inflexible blade marked Weiss and Company, London.”


    While there have been many doctors in the ranks of amateur athletes, including several Olympians, there have been few physicians involved in professional athletics. Of those, most are like New York Yankee and cardiologist Bobby Brown, who began their practices after retirement from sports. In contrast, Dr. Renee Richards (b.1934) took a hiatus from her ophthalmology practice in 1977 to become a world renowned sports personality playing professionally until 1981.

    • Helen Keller Services Achievement Award, 2001

      When Dr. Richards returned to practicing ophthalmology, she once again gained recognition for her work off the tennis court. In 2001 she received the Helen Keller Services Achievement Award from the Manhattan League of Helen Keller Services for the Blind.


    A social visionary strives to make the world a better place. The best known social visionary ophthalmologist was L. L. Zamenhof, MD (1859-1917). In 1887 Dr. Zamenhof created a universal language, Esperanto, so that the entire world could communicate and understand each other better. He then worked tirelessly for the rest of his life to promote its adoption. The first international Esperanto congress was held in 1905 and has continued annually under the auspices of the Universala Esperanto-Asocio.

    • Struggles and Survival

      In 1922 and 1925 Adolf Hitler specifically denounced Esperanto as part of a Jewish conspiracy to take over the world, his so-called “Jewish peril.” Eventually, Esperanto was banned by the Nazi government. Later it would be periodically barred by other governments including the Soviet Union, Spain and Japan. Esperanto survived despite these episodes of repression and in 2009 it was given a coveted “Google Doodle” on what would have been Dr. Zamenhof’s 150th birthday.


    Dr. Julian (Jules) Caesar Stein (1896-1981) gave up a promising career in ophthalmology to establish the Music Corporation of America (MCA, Inc.) in 1924. When he started MCA, Stein was an agent for big bands like Benny Goodman and then in 1937 he took the company to Hollywood where it represented top actors including Shirley Temple, Ronald Reagan and Bette Davis. MCA went on to acquire Decca Records, Universal Studios, and Revue Productions, becoming a major producer of movies, television and music. Throughout his career, Stein never forgot ophthalmology. He helped to found Research to Prevent Blindness (1966), the Jules Stein Eye Institute at UCLA (1966), and lobbied for the National Eye Institute (1968).

    • Some Like It Hot

      During the making of the film, "Some Like It Hot" (1959), Marilyn Monroe and Tony Curtis were both represented by MCA/Universal. During this particular motion picture there is a scene in which Tony Curtis' character pops his head into the office of a talent agent asking for work. When he leaves, we see the lettering on the door which reads, "Music Corporation of America, Jules Stein." This little wink to the boss was the only time Dr. Stein ever made it into one of his motion pictures.

    • Harry Gradle, MD

      When Dr. Stein incorporated MCA, Inc. in 1924 he chose the first Board of Directors very carefully. It consisted of himself, his brother, and his then employer, Dr. Harry S. Gradle. Dr. Gradle was a prominent 20th Century ophthalmologist devoted to the improvement of ophthalmic education.


    Painters, sculptors and photographers make their work look intuitive, but art requires very methodical thinking and precise technical knowledge. It should be no surprise then that many physicians find art making an engrossing hobby. However, not many physicians become world-renowned artists. One exception is ophthalmologist Howard Schatz (b.1940).

    • Howard Schatz, MD

      Howard Schatz’s interest in photography began the same day that he realized he wanted to be an ophthalmologist. In 1964 he was a third year medical school student at a party when he was introduced to both a Nikon F camera and an enthusiastic first-year ophthalmology resident. Dr. Schatz would go on to become a world-renowned retina specialist and for the first twenty years of his practice, photography claimed only a small amount of his attention. Then in 1995 Dr. Schatz decided to take a one year sabbatical to devote himself full time to his art. He never looked back. To date Dr. Schatz has published 20 monographs and his photography can be found in museums and galleries worldwide.