An interview with a super-inspiring ophthalmologist and eye safety advocate

Dr. Carla Ford is a Physician and Clinical Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at The Ohio State University. After a fulfilling 10 years in private practice, she now enjoys the collaboration in education, research, and clinical-based outcomes working at Ohio State. She is also a member of the Ohio Ophthalmological Society, and an important advocate for eye safety and injury prevention. We recently had the pleasure of catching up with Dr. Ford, learning what led her to a career in ophthalmology, her passion behind impacting the lives of others, and being a patient advocate.

Q. What led you to a career in ophthalmology?

A. It started kind of early for me and then led into this lifelong career. I've been wearing glasses since the second grade, actually. And as a kid, vision changed my life because my prescription was so bad. I could hardly tell that there were leaves on the trees! And so my grades went up and I was more confident after getting the proper glasses prescription. And that feeling of me getting that kind of an impact at an early age—it had a huge effect on me. I always kept that in my mind as I was thinking about what I was going to do with my life. 

That led me to where I had an opportunity to interact with an ophthalmologist who took an interest in what my life could become. He invited me to shadow him in the operating room. It was truly eye opening and a phenomenal experience. And then I went the next day to see how his patients were feeling following surgery. They were just so happy and excited with their improved vision. I remembered that feeling when I was a kid getting my own pair of glasses and I knew at that moment I wanted to have that kind of an impact on people. 

And so I got into ophthalmology and it has been tremendously fulfilling. Being able to have a small impact on people's lives is one big part. And on the other end of it I'm able to advocate for patients, being a part of the Ohio Ophthalmological Society and affecting policy and educating the public and our legislators about the importance of vision. 

Q. You talked a lot about corrective vision and the impact it had on you. Do you see a lot of injuries that could have been prevented by wearing the right eye safety gear?

A. When I was in private practice, a lot of injuries had to do with sports. There would be a lot of injuries to the retina and this is very scary as a kid. You're just playing and all of a sudden, something happens and these injuries absolutely could have been prevented with the proper sports equipment. As kids we're not as coordinated as we’ll be as adults and so reaction time—getting out of the way or knowing how fast the pitch or football is thrown—just isn't as good as what it will be as they develop more. And when kids are after the ball, things can get wild—elbows to the eyes and kicks to the face. So protective gear to prevent permanent damage and vision loss is paramount. 

And now that I'm here at the Wexner Medical Center, I see all sorts of injuries in adults could have been easily prevented. It always seems to be around the time of fireworks or fire pits or something as simple as mowing the lawn or painting, when something gets in the eye and that could have been easily prevented by wearing safety glasses.

Q. When you look back at your career and serving patients, what makes you the most proud or is the most rewarding?

Ah, it never gets old. There's so many rewarding things. As a physician, it’s not always a happy ending, but helping someone through a disease process and being able to treat that with as much compassion and sympathy and education is a big part of what I do. And with cataract surgery or with some of the other surgeries that I do, it’s an immediate impact and so that is great! But for somebody who has an eye injury that will take many weeks to heal, being able to get them through that as well is also very rewarding. 

Just having that trust and that relationship with my patients is very important to me. I'm the type of doctor that values being able to help someone get through a scary time. When people have changes to their vision, it's very frightening, but having the resources and the staff that I have with me and my colleagues who can help—if I can help that person, that's very rewarding for me and that never gets old!

Q. What significant technological and medical advances have been made in the field of ophthalmology recently that you’d like people to know about?

A. There's a lot of exciting things in the pipeline of helping people to see as well as they can, because we both know people are living longer and we want to keep people independent vision-wise. In the field of glaucoma, there's new advances coming out of how we monitor the pressure of the eye. In the field of cataract surgery, there's always new advancements with the different types of artificial lenses that replace the cataract to help patients see even better than what they could before. Another exciting development is in the field of dry eyes—there’s some drugs out there, but there's other advances coming out of how we treat dry eyes in a completely different way. In the field of retinal macular degeneration, this can be a very blinding disease. Ohio State is involved in research to help slow the progression of it.

So from the front of the eye to the very back of the eye, there's lots of innovation happening to improve lives through improving vision.

Q. Talk to us about the Superspecs prescription goggle program. How have you seen it impact those that you serve?

A. Thank you! Thank you for this, because you're saving vision. You really are. I have had some patients when I was in private practice—kiddos who had prescription goggles—and it meant everything to them being able to perform as well as they needed to perform and also have the protection of the eyes that they needed. It has had a tremendous impact.

Q. If someone suffers an injury on the field or for our friends in career tech who are welding or building or working with electrical, what are the steps they should take when they have an injury?

A. Seek medical attention right away because it could be anything—from something just got into the eye to a more serious thing if there's actual damage that needs treated. So that would be number one: seek medical attention right away. Got it?

Q. Here at Superspecs, we encourage kids to be super in everything they do. What advice would you give to them as they look to their futures? Any advice to those wanting to pursue careers in ophthalmology, or excel in their chosen fields?

A. I would say being as open-minded as you can. I mean, when I was a kid, I didn't even know that this field existed until someone I just happened to talk to was an ophthalmologist. But had I been close-minded or didn't think that I could do it or that it was something I wasn’t interested in, it would have changed my life. I would have been totally doing something else!

Be open-minded about different careers and what interests you. I think kids tend to not want to pursue different things because they're just unsure of it, but they just didn't ask any questions and you never know who will be your mentor. I still have mentors and people that I bounce things off of. So at any stage of life, you'll have mentors and that doesn't really stop. So just be open asking questions and you never know what relationship can develop out of that or what kind of avenue or opportunities that will afford you.

Lastly,  just don't be afraid. If you want to shadow someone or you want to see something, don’t be afraid to ask and you never know! My dad was a UPS driver, and he'd always want people to tag along with him just to see what the job was like. And so I think if you are having that inquisitiveness about something you only will know if you get in there and shadow it. That experience that I had changed the course of my life in just one afternoon. So always keep that inquisitiveness about things and that will guide you in the right direction.


A super big thank you to Dr. Ford for all of her time and wise words. For more information about Dr. Ford and her career, learn more here.