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Sophie Liao, MD, poses with Joan Bell, wife of Robert Bell, who inspired an endowed chair award.

Patient-Centered Care Inspires Award of Endowed Chair to Department of Ophthalmology Professor

Sophie Liao, MD, has been awarded the inaugural Robert H. Bell Endowed Chair in Ophthalmology, named for the patient whose care she provided at the Sue Anschutz-Rodgers Eye Center.

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Written by Toni Lapp on February 10, 2023

Many patients have been touched by the compassionate care they receive at University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. Sometimes, the families of these patients honor that care posthumously. Sophie Liao, MD, associate professor of ophthalmology at CU School of Medicine, was named the inaugural Robert H. Bell Endowed Chair in Ophthalmology in gratitude for the care she delivered to one such patient in 2021.

For Liao, a specialist in oculofacial plastic and orbital surgery, it was fairly routine work but transformative for the final months of Robert Bell’s life. Bell needed surgical repair of his eyelid in the setting of additional complex medical concerns to improve his quality of life. The Patten-Davis Foundation endowed the chair in honor of Robert Bell, who passed away in May 2022. His wife, Joan Bell, is on the board of trustees for the foundation and was on hand to celebrate the announcement of the award with Liao. The Patten-Davis Foundation has a long history of collaboration with CU Anschutz, having supported seven endowed chairs. This is the ninth endowed chair for the Department of Ophthalmology.

“It’s such an amazing honor,” says Liao, who is also associate chief medical officer of ambulatory services for UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital. “The Bell family and the Patten-Davis Foundation have such incredible vision. It is a good reminder to us that our everyday work really matters.”

Sophie Liao and Joan Bell-blog cropSophie Liao, MD, poses with Joan Bell, wife of Robert Bell, at the endowed chair announcement.

Her scope of care encompasses a wide spectrum of procedures, including treatment of diseases involving the eye and eye socket, and surgical management of eye and orbital cancer patients. She frequently collaborates with specialists in other departments on complex cases involving tumors, trauma, and facial reconstruction.

A graduate of the University of Michigan Medical School, Liao completed her ophthalmology residency at the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins University and a fellowship in Oculofacial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute. Liao joined the Department of Ophthalmology in 2014 and has established herself as a mentor in her field, winning the UCHealth Eye Center Resident Teaching Award in 2018. She co-precepts a fellowship in oculoplastic surgery and has trained dozens of residents. Her academic interests include treatment of thyroid eye disease and optimizing the reconstructive management of orbital and periorbital tumors.

“Dr. Liao has distinguished herself as an exemplary clinician and surgeon during her time here in our department,” says Naresh Mandava, MD, chair of the Department of Ophthalmology and Sue Anschutz-Rodgers Endowed Chair in Retinal Diseases. “She receives referrals routinely from the entire Rocky Mountain region to treat orbital and oculoplastic conditions. She has excelled at her work in multidisciplinary clinical care, collaborating with other programs like neurosurgery and otolaryngology. This endowed chair honors the amazing patient-centered care she provides and will allow her as the inaugural chair holder to impact the lives of so many through research, education, and clinical care.”

The resources from the endowment will enable Liao to make contributions in research and cutting-edge training of fellows and residents in her specialty.

“I am inspired to pay it forward,” she says. “There is no shortage of worthy projects that this funding can provide for. I hope to honor the trust placed in me by using it in a way that will benefit the next generation of eye doctors and the patients who come to them with complex conditions like Mr. Bell’s.”

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Sophie Liao, MD

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