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Up Front | Oct 2008

5 Questions With Ming Wang, MD, PhD

Dr. Wang is Head of the Wang Vision Institute in Nashville, Tennessee, and Founder and Chairman of the Board of the nonprofit charitable organization, Wang Foundation for Sight Restoration.

1. What is unique about the way you run the Wang Vision Institute?
First, I emphasize cutting-edge technology, investing time and resources to equip my practice with state-of-the-art devices. The physicians and technicians at our center are well trained in advanced anterior diagnostic and treatment technologies. Our experience with newer technologies enables us to diagnose and treat more complex problems, such as post-LASIK complications. Additionally, we actively share what we have learned with other practices. In 2006, we published Corneal Topography in the Wavefront Era. Earlier this year, we published Irregular Astigmatism: Diagnosis and Treatment, the first textbook dedicated to treating irregular astigmatism.

The second characteristic that is unique to our practice is our mission to bring our work out of the clinic and into the public domain. We conduct educational seminars for the public on a routine basis. Doctors not only have the responsibility to treat patients in their clinic, but they also have the responsibility to educate the public about the availability of new treatments, and their appropriate indications and their limitations.

2. You are the Co-Owner and Medical Director of Refractive Surgery of the Aier Eye Hospital Group in China and the Founder and President of the Tennessee Chinese Chamber of Commerce. What are your long-term goals for these organizations?
The Aier Eye Hospital Group is currently the largest private eye hospital network in China, holding approximately 10% of the country's refractive surgery market. My goal for Aier is to help China improve its quality of eye care.

I am originally from China. In 1982, I came to the United States with only $50 and a Chinese-English dictionary in my pocket, and I knew no one in this vast, new country. I feel fortunate that I was educated in three of the top four US ophthalmic institutes: Harvard Medical School, Wills Eye Hospital, and Bascom Palmer Eye Institute. I want to give back to my country of origin by doing what I can to improve China's eye care.

My goal for the Tennessee Chinese Chamber of Commerce is to help Tennessee-based companies increase their trade with China. Tennessee currently exports more to China than any other US state. Our growth rate of export has grown from $200 million per year to $2 billion per year. The guiding mission of our chamber is to help Tennessee businesses better organize themselves. The better organized we are, the better we can present ourselves to Chinese buyers and generate export revenue. As a result, Tennessee will have the resources it needs to improve our society's infrastructure and education system.

3. What is the Wang Foundation for Sight Restoration, and what inspired you to start this nonprofit organization?
The Wang Foundation for Sight Restoration is a 501c(3) nonprofit charitable organization that helps patients afford sight-restoring surgical procedures. I established the foundation 5 years ago, and its mission is twofold: to provide education to the public and surgeons, and to provide funding to patients who have lost their sight but can not afford the sight restoration surgeries that we offer.

A hallmark of 21st century medicine is the rapid speed of new technology development. As doctors, we have the challenge of educating the public and physicians about the availability of new treatments in a timely manner. The foundation provides education on new sight-restoring surgeries and technologies through a series of educational forums conducted throughout the year.

Often, the most expensive technologies are designed to address the needs of patients who are the least able to afford them, like patients who have lost sight due to injuries and may be on disability. Foundation doctors donate our services and perform all sight-restoration surgeries free-of-charge. The foundation has helped patients from over 40 states and 55 countries. We have also been involved in the research and development of new technologies. We hold a US patent for a new corneal technology, we have published a paper in Nature, and we performed the first femtosecond laser-assisted Alphacor artificial cornea implantation surgery.

4. You are known for using cutting-edge technologies to restore sight for corneal blind patients. What technologies do you feel are essential to your work?
Lasers and optics are the two key technologies of our work. One of the challenges doctors face is that not only do we need to know traditional medical information, like anatomy and physiology, but we also need to know what cutting-edge technologies are used today. After all, we use these lasers to determine the quality of our patients' vision for the rest of their lives. That is no small responsibility.

5. What are some of the unique ways that you have combined your hobbies with your ophthalmology practice?
Vision is much more than a thing of numbers. As eye doctors, we so often retreat to our clinic rooms and focus on numbers—20/40, 20/30, 20/20. Many times, patients are treated as numbers, too. I think ophthalmology should be more than that. Vision is a visceral, indispensable part of our experience as a human being. I have devoted much of my professional life finding ways to bring that deeper, more emotional dimension of eye care out in my practice and in the ophthalmic community.

When I was at Harvard, I helped found its ballroom dancing team. I have since been actively competing nationally and internationally. I combined this hobby with my profession by creating the Eye Ball, the foundation's annual charity fundraising event. The Eye Ball is a 17th century-like Vienna ballroom party where attendees can enjoy music, dancing, and colorful costumes. I combine art and medicine to remind us how precious our sight is and how pressing it is that we help those who do not have it. During the evening, in the middle of all the beauty, music, and color, blind patients come on stage and share how they are feeling at that moment. They tell us how dark and painful their experience is because they cannot see the beauty of the dancing. The sharp contrast of their dark experience with the visual liveliness of the party creates a renewed appreciation for sight and reminds attendees of how imperative it is to help those who are unable to see.