The University of Colorado Department of Ophthalmology is celebrating the graduation of six fellows and six residents, who have spent their time with the department focusing on patients, honing their skills, and serving on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This class, like so many of the classes before them, is quite exceptional,” says Naresh Mandava, MD, department chair and Sue Anschutz-Rodgers Endowed Chair in Retinal Diseases.
Program directors and faculty across the department echo Mandava’s praises of the graduating class. Many will move into practicing ophthalmology or continuing education, while a few will remain with the department.
Residents overcoming and going beyond
Most notably, the class was met with the onset and height of the pandemic, which residency program directors and department leaders say led to a highly resilient class.
“This group of residents experienced the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020 of their internship year, so they served on the front lines and were heroic in caring for those in need,” Mandava says. “This experience, although we would never wish for a repeat, will be one that they never forget. It will have a lasting impact on their resilience in any medical situation they run into.”
Jeffrey SooHoo, MD, MBA, associate professor of ophthalmology at the CU School of Medicine and director of the residency program, points to the challenges the residents encountered in their ophthalmology training as well as on the frontlines of the pandemic.
“They experienced some really intense moments,” SooHoo says of the residents, who often worked in the ICU, caring for the sickest COVID-19 patients. “As a result, their ophthalmology training had to be very flexible, especially when operating rooms were shut down, staffing levels changed, and rotations were impacted.”
Even so, SooHoo says the graduates did exceptionally well.
“Their clinical and surgical experiences have been fantastic,” he says. “They’re certainly all ready for the next step, whether it’s starting a job or moving on to a fellowship.”
The graduating residents include Zafar Gill, MD; Ryan Larochelle, MD; Troy Teeples, MD; Shane Nau, MD; Carson Petrash, MD; and Stephen Phillips, MD. Three have matched into fellowships and three have accepted positions to practice comprehensive ophthalmology.
The Department of Ophthalmology's graduating residents pose together in celebration.
Gill will stay with CU's retinal fellowship program, working under the direction of Mandava and others in the department. LaRochelle matched to a two-year ASOPRS fellowship in ophthalmic plastic and reconstructive surgery at the University of Wisconsin. Petrash matched to a two-year fellowship in retinal surgery at the University of Texas in San Antonio.
Nau and Teeples are joining Colorado-area practices – Teeples with the Colorado Permanente Medical Group in Lone Tree and Nau with Colorado Eye Consultants in Littleton. Phillips is joining Kaiser Permanente Northern California in San Rafael, California.
The class of 2023 is the final residency program SooHoo will oversee. He has been named an assistant dean of student affairs in addition to his role as assistant dean of admissions for the CU School of Medicine.
He counts the six-year experience as one that has touched his life and potentially thousands more.
“It's been really one of the best things that's happened in my career,” SooHoo says. “It’s a way to have scalable impact in the world. There's a limit to the number of patients that I can physically see in my career, but if every year we graduate six new people that will go on to care for thousands of people in their careers, there is an impact that's wider than what you’re able to do individually. It’s been a great experience to watch these residents grow.”
On July 1, Monica Ertel, MD, PhD, assistant professor of ophthalmology, will take on the role of residency program director.
The class of 2026 begins as PGY-2 residents July 1. The incoming trainees include Hosannah Evie, MD, Ian McClain, MD, Cheryl Fonteh, MD, Ari Stoner, MD, Joana Karanxha, MD, and Tiffany Wu, MD.
This year’s graduating fellows represent a range of expertise that benefited the Sue Anschutz-Rodgers Eye Center. Alongside the residency graduates, the department is sending six fellows onto exciting new opportunities.
Neuro-ophthalmology fellow Anna Zarubina, MD, and pediatric optometry and strabismus fellow Emma Stahr, OD, are both pursuing further education.
Cornea, external disease and refractive surgery fellow Michael Murri, MD, is joining Ungricht Parker Eye Associates in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Maryam Ghiassi, MD, MHS, and William Gange, MD, both focused on vitreoretinal disease as fellows. Ghiassi is joining Retinal Consultants’ Medical Group in Sacramento, California, and Gange is joining the Eye Center of Northern Colorado in Fort Collins, Colorado.
Glaucoma fellow Galia Deitz, MD, MPH, will become a faculty member in the department. She also completed the ophthalmology residency program at CU.
Graduating fellows include (from left to right) Anna Zarubina, MD, Galia Deitz, MD, MPH, William Gange, MD, Maryam Ghiassi, MD, MHS, and Michael Murri, MD. Not pictured: Emma Stahr, OD.
“Galia is a real gem,” says Leonard Seibold, MD, a glaucoma fellowship program director and Department of Ophthalmology professor. “She is a tremendously hard working, caring, and efficient clinician who stays well organized and diligent to make sure every detail is accounted for in patient care. She also happens to be one of the most gifted surgeons I have ever trained. We are very proud to have trained her and are thrilled that she has decided to join the faculty here.”
The five incoming fellows include Jennifer Lopez, MD, who will join Gill in vitreoretinal diseases and surgery; Ryan Frisbie, MD, who has matched to the pediatric ophthalmology and strabismus fellowship; Heran Gebreyesus, MD, who has matched to the glaucoma fellowship; and Colton McCoy, MD, who will focus on cornea, external disease and refractive surgery.
Continuing fellows are: Caroline Vloka, MD, in oculofacial plastic and orbital surgery, and Saagar Patel, MD, in vitreoretinal diseases and surgery.
“We look forward to watching our fellows’ and residents’ careers blossom,” Mandava says of the class of 2023. “We expect great things from them.”