This week’s Making the Rounds features neuro-ophthalmologist Padmaja Sudhakar, MD. She sees patients who have neurologic diseases that affect the visual system. Dr. Sudhakar is part of the UK Neuro-Ophthalmology Service, one of two academic referral centers in the state of Kentucky evaluating patients like these. We caught up with her to talk about collaboration between specialists and learn more about her intensive approach to patient care.
What led you to specialize in neuro-ophthalmology?
I actually first trained in ophthalmology, and one of the initial patients that I had seen was an 8-year-old child who lost vision. And actually, many people did not know why she was blind. But we ended up evaluating her. Then there was optic nerve damage in both the eyes. And when we scanned her, we found this huge brain tumor which had been sitting there, and could have been diagnosed a long time ago and probably at least preserved her vision partially. So that got me really interested to think how this discipline is not just focused or just related to ophthalmology, but it brings many fields together – for example neurology, neurosurgery, radiology, etc. And I liked the multidisciplinary aspect of the field.
What is unique about university-based healthcare for patients?
It's very advantageous to practice a field like neuro-ophthalmology in an academic setting because every discipline is available to you. For example, in UK, we have so many subspecialists. So when a patient is referred to me for an evaluation – say, by a general ophthalmologist – I do their exam. And then if I need them to see other specialists, it's very easy for me to work around in UK because all that I have to do is make the referral or make one phone call and everything happens…And then the patient doesn't have to go outside of the setting. Everything is available under one roof.
How do you approach the first appointment with a new patient?
My field cannot take shortcuts. It cannot be a quick 10 minute eye exam. We will miss out on many things. I always feel that the more time I spend gathering all [the patient’s] information, reviewing what prior evaluation has been done for them, and also understanding what other disciplines have done for them has helped me give a very thorough evaluation for the patient. So although [the process is] very long, I feel that at the end of the encounter, it's productive both ways.
Watch our full interview with Dr. Padmaja Sudhakar.