An interview with a retina specialist and wellness advocate

Dr. E. Shanika Esparaz is a double board-certified ophthalmologist and fellowship-trained medical retina specialist and cataract surgeon in Northeast Ohio. Her practice is unique in that she offers comprehensive ophthalmology care with a subspecialty focus on the retina. Dr. Esparaz is also board-certified in lifestyle medicine and can offer counseling on nutrition, exercise, sleep hygiene, and more. She is a new board member of the Ohio Ophthalmological Society, and an important advocate for eye health and wellness—and the connection between the two. We had a great discussion with Dr. Esparaz, learning what led her to a career in ophthalmology, and her outlook on health.


Q. A bit about you—what led you to a career in ophthalmology?

A. I went to medical school actually wanting to be a pediatric endocrinologist. Back when I was in high school, I had wanted to do research and I got into a lab that was working on diabetic retinopathy at the cellular level. And so in doing that research—every summer for a few years—I learned a lot about diabetes and so I went into medical school, wanting to work with kids that had diabetes. And then I realized I liked using my hands and they wanted to be in a field where I could do surgery and procedures to make change happen for patients in a positive way. And so I started looking into surgical specialties and that’s when I fell into ophthalmology and realized ophthalmologists see a lot of patients with diabetes, young and old—and now I’m a retina specialist! One of the main conditions I treat is diabetic retinopathy, and so it’s coming full circle from getting interested in diabetes at a young age to now treating diabetes through ophthalmology. 

Q. Let’s talk about eye safety, first—it’s what we stand behind. Being a retina specialist, do you see a lot of eye injuries that could have been prevented by wearing eye safety gear?

A. In residency, I saw a lot more trauma than I do, now, in my current position. It doesn’t bode well for visual and retinal health—and it’s really hard. Sometimes we're not able to restore vision after certain types of trauma. And so that’s really tough as a physician and of course for our patients. As physicians, we see damage to the eye that we just cannot repair with any type of surgery. So, yeah, definitely—eye safety gear is so important!

Q. Any advice for kids and their parents if they do experience an injury on the field or in the classroom?

A. Number one, stay calm. Number two, get in contact with an eye care provider or go to the emergency room. You know, if it's something like you’ve gotten a chemical or debris in your eye, the best thing to do is to try to flush it out. But if it's a larger trauma, it's better not to touch the eye and just get to an eye care provider as soon as possible. A lot of patients will go to the emergency room, which is a great starting point for some, because some ERs do have ophthalmologists on call. But unfortunately, not all areas have ophthalmologists available at the hospital. And so if you do have an eye care provider, I recommend trying to call their office first to see what they recommend.

Q. When you think about your career and serving patients in the Northeast Ohio area, what makes you the most proud or is the most rewarding?

A. I really enjoy helping patients save or improve their vision through something as simple as a procedure in the clinic. That’s the nice part about what we do in ophthalmology—a lot of it is outpatient procedure, and we can do a lot just in the office.

And then I also just enjoy getting to know them, as a retina specialist. I get to see my patients once a month or once every other month and so I really see them very frequently and get to know them personally—they become part of our work family.

Q. Talk to us a little bit about being board-certified in lifestyle medicine, and its connection to eye health and ophthalmology.

A. I actually got really interested in this a couple years ago during the pandemic. I feel like we all have a new outlook on health and we really don’t take it for granted any more. And I really wanted to learn how to take better care of myself and my kids. And that’s translated into helping my patients, too. So that’s why I was interested in getting board certified in lifestyle medicine. And what I learned was really evidence-based—which I really think we should have learned in medical school—nutrition and the importance of exercise and sleep and social connection and mindfulness and stress management.

So now I’m starting to apply that stuff to my patients that I see monthly. Especially for my patients with diabetes, or if they are smoking—that can increase your risk of macular degeneration so being able to just be more aware—that there’s a whole person here, and how to help them not only directly through procedures for their eyes, but how to help their overall health through counseling them on smoking cessation. Or proper nutrition. And then I’ve also enjoyed doing health and wellness coaching for other moms like me who are in health care, just trying to make a healthier and happier healthcare community.

We’ve got to take care of her, kind of like the guidance we get on an airplane! They say put your oxygen mask on first. Learning how to take care of ourselves is really important—this can translate into taking care of our families and our patients better, too. 

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 there’s always going to be challenges and proceed! I guess that’s a big word for kids, but there’s always going to be challenges, right? Roadblocks or bumps in the road. I am a firm believer that those things happen for a reason and should not to deter you from what you want to do or what you envision yourself doing.

But to help you get to where you need to be in the end—whatever you envision doing—go for it! Don’t stand in your own way. Roadblocks and challenges will come along, and that’s okay. It’s part of the journey.

For anyone who’s accomplished their goals and are now in their career—it’s never a linear path. There’s always a winding road, I like to say, or a few bumps along the way. So don’t feel alone. If you’re coming up to a challenge, keep pushing on!


A super big thank you to Dr. Esparaz for all of her time and forward-thinking. For more information about Dr. Esparaz and her career, learn more here.