Esteemed ophthalmic leader Roger F. Steinert, MD, dies
Roger Francis Steinert, MD, one of America’s most distinguished ophthalmologists and an internationally recognized authority on corneal and refractive surgery, has died. Dr. Steinert died peacefully at his home in Vail, Colorado, surrounded by family and friends on June 6 after a 2.5-year battle with glioblastoma. He was 66 years old. His courageous personal struggle was public because Roger remained professionally active until several weeks before his passing. In his final 2 years, Roger was feted by his colleagues and the professional organizations that he had led. This outpouring of affection and recognition was unique.
At the time of his death, Roger was Irving H. Leopold Professor and chair of the department of ophthalmology at the University of California at Irvine and director of the Gavin Herbert Eye Institute.
Beloved by his patients, admired by his colleagues and respected by his students, Roger had an extraordinary career on both the East and West coasts of the United States, as well as globally. He was born in Lawrence, Massachusetts, on Dec. 8, 1950. His educational provenance was one that prominent Boston physicians were expected to have. Always a prodigy in the classroom, Roger graduated at the top of his class at Phillips Academy in Andover. He matriculated at Harvard College. He graduated at the top of the class, summa cum laude, majoring in psychology and writing a thesis on the physiologic benefits of meditation. As a student at Harvard Medical School, he initially considered a career in orthopedic surgery, but upon the advice of a good friend, he chose ophthalmology instead. After completion of his residency at Massachusetts Eye and Ear and Infirmary in 1981, he joined the cornea practice of S. Arthur Boruchoff and Ann Bajart.
Roger’s intellect, exceptional surgical skills and extraordinary rapport with patients quickly led to his recognition as the “go-to” corneal consultant for the most challenging clinical cases. At the same time, he began a distinguished career as a clinician scientist, studying the biophysics of Nd:YAG laser photodisruption and becoming a pioneer in both basic and applied studies of the excimer laser. After a brief stint on the full-time faculty at Harvard Medical School, Roger joined Ophthalmic Consultants. He also played a major role at New England Eye Center of Tufts University School of Medicine where he was a busy excimer laser surgeon and cornea fellowship preceptor.
Roger practiced ophthalmology in Boston for 23 years. If his national reputation was great, his local reputation was even greater. Many considered him the top cataract and refractive surgeon in the city, and the autographed photographs on his office walls confirmed that belief. He cared for celebrities, politicians and Nobel Prize winners. One of his patients was the famed chef Julia Child. Roger claimed that she had shared her most important cooking secrets with him in appreciation. (This claim was never verified.) Rich or poor, famous or infamous, Roger treated all patients with his undivided attention when they were with him. For the moments that his patients were with him in the office or the operating room, their well-being was the only thing that concerned Roger Steinert.
Roger left Boston for California in 2004. In the traditional world of Boston medicine, such a move might have been unthinkable. He had secured a position in the pantheon of greats in the medical capital of the world. But Roger moved West as an affirmation that his thirst for adventure and accomplishment had not been quenched. And his accomplishments in this final chapter of his life were perhaps more impressive than those of the first.
He joined the University of California at Irvine (UCI) as vice chair of the department of ophthalmology. Four years later, in 2008, he was named chair of the department. Astute observers of the ophthalmic profession had recognized for many years that Orange County, California, home of UCI and some of America’s most affluent communities, would be a perfect location for a major eye institute. Many had considered the project and declined. Roger recognized this as a challenge that he was uniquely qualified to address. His vision and ambition led to the opening of the Gavin Herbert Eye Institute at UCI in 2014. Roger marshaled support from the ophthalmic, philanthropic and biotech communities to raise more than $39 million to build a 70,000-square-foot facility. It was the first project at UCI to be financed exclusively by private nongovernmental funds. Roger also recruited an exceptional faculty for his new eye institute. Even after his illness was diagnosed in late 2014, Roger continued to fundraise ambitiously for the institute, including raising $5 million for the Steinert Chair of Ophthalmology, which is the most highly endowed ophthalmology professorship in the country.
Roger’s leadership positions were not confined to ophthalmology. In July 2014, Roger was named interim dean of the medical school at UCI. He continued in that role until a new dean was named in late 2015.
Roger served as president of the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery. He presented the Barraquer and Dohlman lectures and was presented with the New England Ophthalmological Society Lifetime Achievement Award.
Roger is survived by his wife, April; three children, Adam of Minneapolis, Kristen of New Hampshire and Matthew of Toronto; and three stepchildren, Jeffrey of Irvine, California, Monica of Long Beach, California, and Gregory of Brockton, Massachusetts. - by Carmen A. Puliafito, MD, MBA
Tributes to Roger Francis Steinert:
Roger Steinert was an extraordinary ophthalmologist and a very special and giving mentor to hundreds of residents and fellows as well as thousands of colleagues. Roger’s and my career were quite parallel. He was director of the corneal service at Massachusetts Eye and Ear when I was in the same position at the University of Minnesota. We shared many of the same challenges and interacted for decades at ARVO, AAO and especially ASCRS, where we both served as president. Roger transitioned to program chair and I to the foundation. We served ASCRS side by side for nearly 20 years. We then both entered private practice, Roger at Ophthalmic Consultants of Boston and myself at Minnesota Eye Consultants. Roger then returned to academia, building a great department at the University of California, Irvine, and completing the UCI Gavin Herbert Eye Institute under his tenure. Roger was a true gentleman, great clinician and surgeon, father, husband, athlete and friend. We shared countless experiences with Roger and his special wife, April, but I wish I had enjoyed his company even longer. I will remember Roger for his extraordinary talent and intellect, exemplary judgment and common sense and for the humble, caring way he interacted with all he touched. I will sorely miss him.
Richard L. Lindstrom, MD, OSN Chief Medical Editor
Roger was more than my mentor. He was one of my best friends. I learned so much from him. Not just as a doctor, but as a person. He was able to approach almost any situation with a cool and collected demeanor. He approached obstacles with a friendly smile, always taking the long view, keeping things in perspective. He was a creator of possibilities. It was largely because of his dedication that we were able to construct the Gavin Herbert Eye Institute.
Roger was more than the sum of his accomplishments and awards. For a generation of ophthalmologists, including me, he was a leader, teacher, mentor, friend and colleague whose daily commitment to excellence provided inspiration and guidance.
One of the things I will miss most is his sense of humor. We shared many good times together. I will miss you my friend, rest in peace.
Sumit Garg, MD, OSN Cataract Surgery Board Member
Roger Steinert will be sorely missed. He was a true giant whose work and research transformed what we now take for granted in the field of refractive and corneal surgery. Roger had a generosity of spirit that was unmatched. He shared his knowledge and took great pride in the training of residents and fellows. He uplifted all those who came into his circle. We are all better doctors, surgeons, educators and humans because of his influence in our lives.
I had the great privilege of training with Roger Steinert. Words cannot fully describe what an amazing human being he was. He was a genius clinician, amazing surgeon, generous mentor and powerful yet humble leader. His innovations and research brought together people from all aspects of eye care, from physicians to industry. He advanced the field of ophthalmology in ways that we now take for granted. His legacy will continue to live on through all those who he taught.
Marjan Farid, MD, OSN Cornea/External Disease Board Member
Roger Steinert was one of the most brilliant anterior segment surgeons of our generation. He excelled as a clinician, surgeon, scientific researcher, innovator, author, educator and physician leader. Very few of us have made an equally strong impact in the fields of cataract, refractive and cornea surgery, and Roger was truly special in that regard. For example, who else can claim to have been a leading pioneer in the ophthalmic applications of the Nd:YAG laser, the excimer laser and the femtosecond laser (for both cataract and corneal surgery)? Private practice, academics, department chair, medical school dean and ASCRS president — Roger amazingly had the business skills and managerial talent to succeed in every one of these different settings and roles. Two things stand out as organizational feats that very few could have accomplished. He was the chief editor for two editions of the definitive textbook on cataract surgery, and he served as program chair of the ASCRS annual meeting for 9 years. Beyond expertise, these accomplishments required enormous perseverance and energy that spoke to Roger’s passion for education. The most impressive tribute to Roger Steinert is the measure of how many of his patients appreciated and benefited from him, how many of his colleagues respected and trusted him, how many ophthalmologists worldwide learned from him, how many residents and younger ophthalmologists were mentored by him, and how many of us are so saddened to have lost a great friend.
David F. Chang, MD, OSN Cataract Surgery Board Member
Roger’s many contributions to our organization are legendary: book author, OSN Editorial Board Member, Program Committee member, Hawaiian Eye Day Chief, speaker and much more. Most importantly, we will miss Roger’s steady hand, wise counsel and ready smile at every turn along the way.
Peter N. Slack, President and CEO, The Wyanoke Group
I am fortunate and honored to have worked with Dr. Steinert . As a Program Committee member for Hawaiian Eye, he provided great leadership and guidance, which took our meeting to the highest level. He was a kind and true gentleman who always treated everyone with the utmost respect. He will truly be missed.
Robin Simon, CMP-HC, Senior Vice President, Association and Meeting Solutions, The Wyanoke Group