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Business & Profession Cataract, Comprehensive, Cornea / Ocular Surface, Refractive, Professional Development, Business and Innovation

Rising Star: Dagny Zhu

Credit: Image supplied by Dagny Zhu

It is clear when looking at Dagny Zhu’s life and career to date, that it is one built upon and shaped by the mentors and role models in her life. Zhu’s first source of inspiration came from her mother who, having immigrated to the US with a three-year-old Zhu, worked tirelessly to provide for the two of them. Although her mother’s busy schedule of working seven days a week and attending night school to study English meant that their time together in those early years was limited, her work ethic and caring nature had a lasting impression; Zhu was motivated to focus on her studies and become a physician so that she could not only give back to her mother, but also to those around her.

This desire to serve others led Zhu to purchase a large cataract and refractive practice after graduating from Harvard Medical School, pursuing ophthalmology, and completing her residency and fellowship training. Although a risk at the time, buying her practice served as a launching pad, catapulting her career forward and opening up opportunities for research, collaboration, working with industry, and treating preventable blindness on a global scale. To date, some of Zhu’s career highlights include being one of the first surgeons in Los Angeles to implant the PanOptix trifocal lens, something driven by her passion for using the latest technologies to treat her presbyopia patients; winning Best Paper of the Session as a newly minted attendee to ASCRS for one of her first investigator-initiated studies; being invited to speak on the Main Stage of Specialty Day for Refractive Surgery at the 2023 Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) conference; and being nominated and accepted by her colleagues and mentors to become a member of Cedars Aspens – Bill Trattler, in particular, opened so many doors for Zhu, serving as the epitome of what it means to be a supportive leader and mentor for the next generation.

Although these strides have come as a result of Zhu’s hard work, many people have inspired, mentored, and lifted her up along her journey, she says. This includes Marguerite McDonald – the first female president of ASCRS and the first person in the entire country to use the excimer laser. McDonald also served as a mentor to many of Zhu’s current mentors, including Cathleen McCabe, Susan Macdonald, Laura Enyedi, and Laura Periman (who, with Zhu, hosts the “Mend the Gap” podcast, which shines a light on the issues facing women in ophthalmology and medicine at large).

“Seeing more women in leadership roles, and having mentors in place is the number one thing that we can do to help the next generation,” Zhu explains. “Seeing someone who looks like you and has the same struggles as you in a leadership role gives you something to aspire to.” It is no surprise then that Zhu herself now serves as a mentor and role model to the upcoming generation of medical students, trainees, residents – and, poetically, her three-year-old son, Atlas.

With a strong social media following of around 100,000, Zhu uses her platform for mentorship, offering her time to those who reach out to her wanting answers, to rotate with her in private practice, or to work with her on research. As another of her ophthalmic inspirations, Audrey Rostov, told us, “Dagny Zhu is an amazing person, a positive force for good in ophthalmology. She is always willing to help a colleague, pause to appreciate another human, and share knowledge in a straightforward, honest manner. I am proud and honored to be her friend.”

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About the Author
Julian Upton

Julian Upton is Group Editor of The Ophthalmologist and The New Optometrist. With 20+ years' experience of the magazine industry, he has covered many facets of science and healthcare.

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