Optometrists not only provide patient care, but they also have multiple opportunities to use their educational background in areas such as research. Natasha Balani, OD, and Sathi Maiti, OD, found a clinical research fellowship at Periman Eye Institute in ocular surface disease and dry eye. The fellowship has allowed them to dive into ocular surface health to finetune the presentations to their patients.
Dr. Balani and Dr. Maiti came to this same fellowship by different paths. Dr. Maiti has worked in various practices since her 2014 graduation from the University of California, Berkeley. In these settings, however, she did not see as many interesting clinical cases as she had hoped she would. She says she wanted a job that interacted with the optometric world, but she didn’t know where to begin. She saw a job posting for the fellowship, and it became the perfect opportunity for her to conduct research while continuing her optometrist status.
On the other hand, Dr. Balani had a patient-based goal in mind that could benefit from specific research. She says she joined a refractive surgery team four years ago – soon after her 2015 graduation from Midwestern University. She had noticed that patients worried about the dryness that follows refractive surgery. The pandemic halted some of her investigations, and she took the fellowship research as an opportunity to go back to learning, taking literature-based science courses. Both Dr. Balani and Dr. Maiti were able to utilize their strengths in the fellowship program. Dr. Maiti works as a sub-investigator for approximately seven ocular-service-related clinical trials, doing more clinical work, such as analyzing patients and conducting eye exams. Dr. Balani’s work is more involved in the writing as she is developing a new dry eye questionnaire to think of eye cares in creative ways.
IMPACT ON CAREER
Dr. Maiti says that she feels she can help direct patients to a solution or further care by using her knowledge and connections to better diagnose or clinical trials. Dr. Balani says she seeks “first to understand, then to be understood.” She learned that expensive, high-tech equipment isn’t needed to provide a good diagnosis. She incorporates discussion on cosmetics into the conversation because makeup ingredients affect not only the eyes but also hormones and tissues, she says. Dr. Balani says most optometrists don’t talk about cosmetics with their patients suffering from dry eyes or ocular surface disease, but she underlines that it is an important detail to mention. Dr. Maiti says she didn’t have to train for the conversation, but it came naturally because she comes from a place of understanding, wearing makeup herself.
Neither Dr. Balani nor Dr. Maiti provide specific cosmetic recommendations because the research is ongoing and the list would be too long, complex and ever-changing. Plus, the scientific names of ingredients are confusing – and what’s great for one patient may not be so good with a patient with certain sensitivities.
Their research takes them into the field – of department store cosmetics counters. Recently, all three doctors went searching for a universally good eye makeup remover for patients to use, but they were unsuccessful, even after a two-hour search.
This fellowship experience has whetted both doctors’ appetites for clinical research. Dr. Maiti says she plans to continue working in clinical and investigative-initiative research, and Dr. Balani says she sees herself committed to the fellowship.
Listen to Dr. Balani and Dr. Maiti detail how they began pursuing a clinical research fellowship and how it impacted their patient care here.