Viva Las Vegas: VBS V
NRMD is pleased to offer continued coverage of the 5th annual Vit-Buckle Society meeting (VBS) in Las Vegas, N.V. As always, the meeting was filled with thought-provoking discussion on complex procedures and surgical situations, which was led by leading retina specialists, but the keynote address delivered by María H. Berrocal, MD, stood out even among the other lectures.
Below, Vaidehi S. Dedania, MD, looks back at the conversational exchange between Rohit Ross Lakhanpal, MD, and Dr. Berrocal, during which they discussed both her accomplishments and the obstacles she faced on her path to success. The interview focused on three distinct themes in Dr. Berrocal’s life: family, feminism, and focus.
—R.V. Paul Chan, MD, MSc; Anton Orlin, MD; and Aleksandra Rachitskaya, MD
Reflections on Chess, Feminism, and Ophthalmology
At this year’s VBS meeting, María H. Berrocal, MD, a leader in the field of vitreoretinal surgery, was honored as the keynote speaker. She delivered her keynote lecture in the form of a one-on-one interview with Rohit Ross Lakhanpal, MD.
Dr. Berrocal is an assistant professor at the University of Puerto Rico School of Medicine and director of Drs. Berrocal and Associates. She obtained her medical degree from the University of Illinois College of Medicine, performed her residency at the University of Puerto Rico, and completed fellowships at Cornell University and the University of Miami School of Medicine (J. Donald M. Gass, MD fellowship).
Dr. Berrocal began her keynote lecture by describing her love for chess. She started playing with her father at age 4 and, by age 13, she was a high school female champion. She described how chess was integral to her everyday life, especially in her career, as she learned from an early age how to compete in a man’s world. Chess has been invaluable for her, she said, and it taught her to approach every problem in life in a sequential way.
Dr. Lakhanpal structured his interview by highlighting three themes that have been key throughout Dr. Berrocal’s life, starting with her family, which was instrumental in her career. Dr. Berrocal said that her father had a great influence on her and her siblings, including her sister, Audina M. Berrocal, MD, who is also an ophthalmologist. He was the first retina specialist in Puerto Rico and was an excellent and dedicated teacher, she said.
Like her father, Dr. Berrocal thinks it is a mistake to separate one’s work from one’s personal life. It is all intertwined. Her father made his life in ophthalmology a part of his family’s life; he brought them to work with him during rounds and while traveling. His passion for retina was passed on to his two daughters. Dr. Berrocal recalled that, as a teenager, she and her father would dissect canine eyeballs at home.
She also spoke of her older brother’s significant impact on her life. Her love for reading and her evolution as a public speaker both started with him, she said. Toward the end of his life, she spent many hours traveling from Puerto Rico to New York City for his chemotherapy treatments. Dr. Berrocal then proceeded to talk about the great respect and admiration she has for her sister, including her dedication to pediatric retina (especially retinopathy of prematurity).
That brought the interview to its second essential life theme: feminism. For Dr. Berrocal, it started with her father, whom she described as a feminist. When she was a child, she said, her father told her to work hard, build a career, make her own money, and never depend on a man for anything. His first partner in practice was a woman, whom he hired despite the advice of others. Dr. Berrocal’s own feminist attitude blossomed during her time at Bryn Mawr College, and it continues with the efforts of both her and her sister to increase the presence of women in retina.
Dr. Lakhanpal directed the interview toward what he called Dr. Berrocal’s incredible focus, which she said had been partially cultivated during her time learning and playing chess. She also reflected on the influence of her many mentors, especially Stanley Chang, MD, whom Dr. Berrocal described as being like a father to her. During fellowship, her focus on and dedication to obtaining the best training possible motivated her to go into the OR on weekends—even when she was not on call. She said her focus has allowed her to continue to maintain excellence and to prepare her for some difficult but exciting opportunities in her career, such as performing live surgery at last year’s VBS meeting.
Vaidehi S. Dedania, MD
• assistant professor of Ophthalmology, New York University, New York, NY
• financial interest: none disclosed