Meet Your DMEI Doctor: Vinay A. Shah, MD
You could say taking care of people runs in the bloodline of Vinay A. Shah, MD. The son of two physicians, Dr. Shah always knew he’d find his calling in medicine. After extensive education and training in such venues as India, Florida, Iowa, Missouri, and Michigan, this skilled vitreoretinal surgeon settled into Oklahoma, a place where he believes kindness and appreciation are unparalleled.
Q: Where did you grow up and when did you first realize you wanted to pursue a career in medicine?
A: I was born in the United Kingdom in Scotland, but the first five years of my life were in New York, and the majority of my adult life was in India. I grew up in a family of physicians: My mom is a retired OB-GYN, and my father is retired pediatric surgeon. All my life I’ve seen them take care of people and heal people, and that attracted me towards medicine. Since I was little I had always wanted to be a physician
Q: Where did you pursue your medical degree?
A: A majority of my schooling took place in India. I did my medical school, residency, and a retina fellowship in India. I earned my bachelor of medicine, bachelor of surgery (MBBS) at Gujarat University. Probably the most prestigious part of my Indian training was at L.V. Prasad Eye Institute, in Hyderabad, India. It’s one of the best eye institutes in the world. That’s where I did my retina fellowship
Q: Where did you complete your other residencies and fellowships?
A: I came to the University of Florida in Jacksonville as a researcher in retina. I did my residency in the United States (U.S.) at the University of Missouri in Kansas City, and I did my U.S. retina fellowship at the Kresge Eye Institute/Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan.
Q: Can you explain your area of expertise to us? What does it mean to be a vitreoretinal surgeon?
A: A vitreoretinal surgeon is basically a physician who has specialized in ophthalmology and sub-specialized in the diseases of the retina and vitreous, which together forms the posterior segment of the eye. If the eye was a camera, the cornea, or front part of the eye, is its lens, and the retina is the film of the camera. The vitreous is the gel-like substance that helps the eye maintain its round shape. Typically, a retina surgeon works on one of the most delicate tissues in the human body: our retina, which varies from 0.5 to millimeters to 1 millimeter thick.
Common procedures we do include surgery on the retina for people having severe diabetic retinopathy, detached retinas; scar tissue on the retina (macular pucker); and macular holes. We use technology like lasers, microscopes, and highly technical instruments. The incisions we make in the eye are about 0.5 millimeters thick. Everything is done manually – there are no robotics here. A lot of times people ask, “Do you use a laser to do this?” or “Do you use a machine?” Everybody thinks robots do a lot of things. This is too fine for a robot, at this point, at least.
In a clinical setting, the common diseases we treat are macular degeneration (for this disease we give injections in the eye), we treat diabetic retinopathy, and other vascular complications in the retina. We also see patients with flashes and floaters (flashing lights and objects floating in their vision), which is a common complaint that comes through the door. Typically, in the office, we do common procedures involving injections and lasers. In fact, the most common procedure in the country is injections in the eye.
Q: What attracted you to vitreoretinal surgery?
A: It was probably the ability to make somebody who is blind see again. Typically, patients who come to a retina specialist have significant medical and eye issues, and being the last person to help them achieve better quality of life and vision is one of the most important things for me personally.
Q: What are the most common conditions that would bring someone to the Dean McGee Eye Institute (DMEI) to see you? What are some of the factors that can cause these issues?
A: Common conditions include diabetes, uncontrolled hypertension, macular degeneration and injury or trauma to the eye. One of the main factors that causes retinal problems is age. As we age, we have a higher risk of retinal problems, including macular degeneration (which is more common in smokers), retinal detachment, macular holes, and epiretinal membrane (scar tissue on the retina). If you do have diabetes, you need to have strict control of blood sugar, blood pressure, and other vascular risk factors. If you can do those things, you can avoid or delay vision threatening complications. A healthy lifestyle is key to avoiding diabetes and its complications.
Q: What led you to join DMEI?
A: I always wanted to be in academia. I wanted the ability to serve a lot of people. To teach and do research was my goal very early in my career. I always knew Dean McGee as one of the top eye institutes in the country. On my first visit, I realized this was probably one of the best places for me to practice my art of taking care of patients. You work with amazing people as a staff member at Dean McGee. My colleagues and I are concerned with providing one thing: excellent care to patients no matter what socio-economic status they’re coming from
The mission to help all Oklahomans no matter what resources they have resonates very well with what I want to accomplish. We want to try to treat everyone to the best of our ability. On top of that, my role as educator and as a researcher and teacher made this one of the most ideal jobs for me.
Q: You’re a clinical professor at the University of Oklahoma. What do you enjoy most about teaching?
A: I love working with students, be it medical students, residents, or even our fellows trying to become retina surgeons. I happen to be the fellowship director, so I have the most intimate one-on-one contact with these students. You know, they always keep you on your toes. We are one of the top institutes in the country and we usually attract the smartest brains and very dedicated individuals. They’re also committed to providing excellent care to our patients while learning the art of ophthalmology. They’re always asking smart questions. I learn from them as much as I teach them. It’s a great symbiotic relationship, and it keeps everything more enjoyable for me.
Q: Let’s get to know you a little better! You’ve lived in the United Kingdom, Florida, New York, Kansas City, India, and now Oklahoma. Is there something that makes Oklahoma different from anywhere else?
A: I think the most important thing that impressed us the day we came to Oklahoma, in addition to DMEI, of course, was the people. My wife and I were very impressed with Oklahomans. They’re just good people. They’re very honest, straightforward, and appreciative of what we can do for them. And that’s probably the No. 1 reason why we decided to stay here and call Oklahoma our new home.
Q: In addition to being a top eye care professional, you also run a technology company, creating new mobile and software technologies to improve personal and professional efficiency. Tell us a little bit about how you started that and why the world of technology appeals to you.
A: I’ve always had a very inquisitive brain and always wanted to do something more and different. Technology has always been very interesting because it keeps changing. It keeps you motivated. The company name is Cloud Nine Development. In 2009, during residency a colleague and I started the company. The main goal at that time was to provide an educational and efficiency tool to the eye care world, on a mobile platform, at no cost to the user.
Today we have an app called Eye Handbook, before I joined DMEI, that the app was launched in 2009, and that’s the first app we developed. Over time we had developed over 100 apps. But Eye Handbook is what we’re known for, and it’s the most popular app in the world in eye care, with over 2 million downloads. We recently decided to now give a similar technology to our patients, so we launched an app called Eye Patient. This is also free to the patient. We provide free patient education materials and the ability for patients to monitor their vision at home. It also provides patients with tools like a magnifier and medication reminders.
Basically, Eye Handbook was created to give back to the community, to give back to my profession. Since we were so early in the game, we were successful in making the app pretty popular just by organic growth. It has become a very powerful tool to engage with the society, help the society, and help the profession.