Dimitris Karamichos, PhD - Bio Matters: Dean McGee Eye Institute offers recruiting deal young researcher can't refuse

· By Jim Stafford, For The Oklahoman
· October 5, 2014

Dimitrios Karamichos, Ph.D., was a rising young star at Harvard Medical School’s Schepens Eye Research Institute. By age 32, he twice had been awarded an R01 grant by the National Institutes of Health, which is considered the “gold standard” of federal research grants. And he had just been named an instructor at the Harvard Medical School.

However, a Harvard mentor suggested his career could blossom even further if he sought a position away from the Boston-area campus.

So, here he was in 2013, interviewing for a research position with the Dean McGee Eye Institute at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.

Something unexpected happened during that visit to Oklahoma. Karamichos liked it. A lot.

“The day went so smooth and I had so much fun talking to these people, I could not believe it,” Karamichos, 34, said of the interview experience.

“I went home and called my girlfriend and said, ‘you are not going to like this, but I’m loving this department, he said.”

Soo Hee Hwang, now married to Karamichos, knew little about Oklahoma.

“She had never been on this side of the country,” Karamichos said. “For her, Oklahoma was not an option. She said ‘no.’ ”

Somehow, the “no” became a “yes” after she visited Oklahoma.

By August 2013, the couple relocated to Oklahoma City. They were married earlier this year and are building their lives as Oklahomans.

Karamichos is an assistant professor in the Department of Ophthalmology at the OU College of Medicine and leading a research team at the Dean McGee Eye Institute. He specializes in researching diseases of the cornea and corneal wound healing.

And Soo, a nurse practitioner, works at an Oklahoma City physician’s office

For Karamichos, the move completed a journey that began in his native Greece, continued in Great Britain where he earned a Ph.D., and included a temporary research assignment at the OU Health Sciences Center in 2005. He worked with James Tomasek at OUHSC, who became a key connection.

When he decided to leave Harvard, Karamichos called Tomasek to ask if he would write a letter of recommendation. That set the wheels into motion.

Tomasek alerted Dean McGee officials to the availability of a top cornea researcher. Dr. Gene Anderson, director of research at the Eye Institute and OU’s Department of Ophthalmology, quickly invited Karamichos to visit the campus.

“Within a week, Dr. Anderson had arranged a visit and invited me to give a seminar,” Karamichos said.

“I couldn’t say no to that. I came here and they had arranged something like 20 interviews in one day. I went from room to room,” he said.

“We work them out,” Anderson said with a laugh as he sat next to Karamichos in a conference room last week. “I don’t think we treated him any different than we treat all the other people we try to recruit. We bring people here and they see our facilities and see how well we all get along and what we offer at the Dean McGee Eye Institute.”

So, what happened to change Soo’s “no” into a “yes?”

It was Dr. Gregory Skuta’s move that closed the deal. Skuta, chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology and CEO and president of the Dean McGee institute, arranged a series of job interviews for Soo before inviting her to Oklahoma.

“I told her, you are getting interviews without even applying for jobs,” Karamichos said. “We came down here, rented a car and she had more interviews than I had. We left, and she was positive. Within a week, she had four different job offers.

“She said, ‘how is this possible?’ ”

It was a deal that neither future Oklahoman could refuse.

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