Since 2014, the Academy’s Artemis Award has recognized a young ophthalmologist who demonstrates the utmost in patient care and goes above and beyond what is expected.
This year’s recipient, Camila Ventura, MD, PhD, exemplifies the award’s namesake — the Greek protector and nurturer of the vulnerable and suffering — having dedicated her young career to treating children with congenital Zika syndrome (CZS) both in her local community and throughout the world.
In an interview with the Academy, she reflects on how her experience has changed her life and offers pearls for how other young ophthalmologists can get involved in their own communities.
Telling Stories of Patients in Need
Dr. Ventura first reported the ocular findings in babies affected by the Zika virus during the 2015 outbreak in her native country, Brazil, where she also attended medical school and completed her ophthalmology training.
Months later, during a research fellowship at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, she began working with Audina Berrocal, MD, to tackle new cases that had reached Miami. One groundbreaking study Drs. Ventura and Berrocal co-authored found that infants whose mothers were infected with the virus during pregnancy were at risk of suffering vision-threatening eye problems.
Since then, Dr. Ventura’s Zika virus research has been featured in publications and conferences around the world. She currently collaborates with the National Eye Institute and the National Institutes of Health to better address the ophthalmic aspects and neurodevelopmental consequences of CZS.
This work has made an enormous impact on her professional and personal life: “I would be lying if I didn’t say that it has changed me in every single way,” Dr. Ventura said.
“Today, I am convinced that I was ‘chosen’ to tell the story of these patients. Thanks to all of my Zika children, I was exposed to a different world with a harsh reality compounded by extreme poverty and major needs. I have been touched by each of their life stories and humbled by the strength that caregivers develop over time.”
3 Tips for Starting a Community Project
As Dr. Ventura can attest, it’s not always easy for a young ophthalmologist to step out of a familiar practice and create a new type of practice that truly helps the underserved within their own communities.
“For example, I found out that these children needed more than just an ophthalmologist,” she said. “They needed a multidisciplinary team managing their specific needs. And that was very overwhelming at first because I had to leave my comfort zone and had to start learning about different specialties and different types of habilitation.”
So what’s her advice for YOs who want to get involved in community service?
1. Avoid the “one-size-fits-all” mentality. “Many community projects can be reproduced elsewhere; however, more often than not, you’ll need to adapt to your specific community’s reality in order to be successful. For every country, every region and every town, there are always different needs to be addressed. So be open to new ideas and be attentive to seeing these needs as an opportunity to make a difference.”
2. Welcome your mistakes and persevere. “It’s perfectly acceptable to make the wrong decisions and not get it right the first time. Learn from these mistakes, keep moving further and remember there’s no easy way around a problem. We will always face challenges along the way, but never lose sight of your goal.”
3. Branch out. “We, as ophthalmologists, can’t accomplish much without the help of others. In order to pursue a community project, you have to gather people with different expertise and create strong partnerships.
Thanks to the amazing professionals I’ve been fortunate to work with in treating CZS, I’ve seen the benefits of early intervention using music therapy, speech and language therapy, visual stimulation and physical therapy. Three years later, I am a witness to how habilitation can make a huge difference in children’s lives!”
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About the author: Mike Mott is a former assistant editor for EyeNet Magazine and contributing writer for YO Info.
In this video, 2018 Artemis Award recipient Camila Ventura, MD, PhD, discusses her work on congenital Zika syndrome around the world.