Based in the belief that diverse leadership results in better outcomes – for practices, organizations and the industry as a whole – Ophthalmic World Leaders (OWL) works across ophthalmology to provide professional and personal development and opportunities for collaboration. In this blog, OWL members share insights on building the skill sets and confidence required of today’s ophthalmic leaders.

BLOG: Leading with compassion, part 2: A hands-on fight against corneal blindness

OWL recently conducted a Q&A with Audrey Talley Rostov, MD, partner at Northwest Eye Surgeons and global medical director for SightLife.


Dr. Rostov, what is the mission of SightLife?

SightLife’s goal is to eliminate corneal blindness worldwide by 2040. This is a treatable condition with a clear solution: a corneal transplant. Yet a shortage of transplant tissue and insufficient surgeon training keep over 10 million men, women and children in the dark. I am the global medical director for SightLife, and in that role, I assist with international surgeon training, help build eye bank capacity and develop a curriculum with a sustainable model.

Audrey Talley Rostov

SightLife assists local eye banks in several countries and aids in management training, providing IT systems and certification. There are many talented surgeons in India, and access to these resources helps ensure they can be successful, which will ultimately increase the number of surgeons that are able to perform corneal transplant surgeries. We also partner with fellowships and training programs at several institutions, including Dr. R.P. Centre for Ophthalmic Sciences, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in New Delhi, LV Prasad Eye Institute in Hyderabad, Aravind Eye Hospital in Madurai and Disha Eye Hospital in Kolkata. Additionally, we work with local governments on policy and regulations for organ and tissue donation.

The entire team of surgeons - both training surgeon fellows, surgeon trainers and staff.
Source: OWL

How did you get involved with SightLife?

I like to think of it as a happy accident. I was affiliated with the organization when I first went into practice. As a cornea surgeon, you naturally develop a relationship with your eye bank because you clearly cannot function without it, and I really appreciated all their hard work in providing tissue for transplants.

About 9 years ago, I was invited to be keynote speaker at a meeting in India. Unfortunately, the meeting was to take place shortly after the terrorist attacks in Mumbai and Ahmedabad, so the meeting was canceled. My husband and I had already arranged all of our travel, including the time off, flights and childcare for our three kids, so we decided to go to India anyway. When I arrived, I was immediately struck by how great the need was for corneal surgeons.

I will never forget a little boy walking into the doctor’s office holding the hand of his grandfather, a man suffering from bilateral corneal blindness with a dense cornea scar and mature cataract. The man had to rely heavily on the help of his family, since there are not many disability accessible services for the visually impaired in India. I performed combined cornea transplant and cataract surgery, and the next day, he was able to see well enough to ambulate. This was just one of many success stories I’ve encountered during my trips. It has been monumental to see the impact that these surgeries have on families and communities. As SightLife initiated its global initiatives, my position just sort of evolved organically.