Dr. Bala Ambati has the distinction of being the world's youngest person to graduate from medical school at age 17.  He is experienced in cornea transplants, cataract extraction, keratoprosthesis (artificial cornea), LASIK, and other complex procedures of the cornea and anterior segment of the eye. He also practices general Ophthalmology. He has been an invited speaker at the World Ophthalmology Congress, American Society of Cataract & Refractive Surgery, International Congress of Eye Research, and other national and international conferences. He regularly donates his time overseas on missions with ORBIS, a nonprofit organization with a Flying Eye Hospital.

With respect to clinical research, Dr. Ambati is committed to constant analysis of results of cornea transplants, LASIK, cataract extraction, and other anterior segment procedures with a view towards optimization of patient outcomes.

Watch an interview of Dr. Ambati with KUTV Channel 2's Shauna Lake.

A Few Questions for Dr. Ambati

Why did you choose a career in medicine and then ophthalmology?

I became a doctor for several reasons: When I was 4 years old, I was burned on both my legs and spent about three months in the hospital.  I had three surgeries at the time for skin grafts and so on. This was a very formative experience – just seeing the doctors and nurses. And as I got older, I enjoyed biology and that seemed to fit well. My uncle was a physician and I was able to see a little bit of what he did. So all of those things were the main factors.

Ophthalmology is something that I chose because in medical school, when I went through the different rotations, I liked Internal Medicine, General Surgery, and Pediatrics. Ophthalmology combines all of those. You see all kinds of diseases, you do exquisite surgery, you see patients of all ages – in what other field could I be a transplant surgeon, a prosthetic surgeon, an emergency surgeon, do overseas work, and explore interesting research questions? It’s really a very nice combination. Most importantly, what you do makes a difference and matters to people.

Why is research important to you?

The most important things to me in Ophthalmology are the sweet smiles of patients when they can see again, training future doctors, and discovering new things in the lab that will make a difference to many people in the future.  Being a doctor makes me a better researcher by giving me a keener understanding of what is important and feasible, and more importantly, being a scientist makes me a better doctor by keeping me up-to-date on advances, allowing me to think about novel problems creatively yet logically, and being connected with a worldwide network of experts who I can learn from and for whom I can serve as a mutual sounding board for challenging situations.

What is your philosophy of care?

The patient comes first.  I heed Hippocrates’ admonition to “first, do no harm”, and then approach each situation with the thought process of first figuring out what is important for the patient, and then what is the right mix of time, medication(s), glasses, contact lenses, or surgical procedure(s) that would best serve the patient and achieve the best possible outcome.  I can’t turn back the clock, I can’t make people 21 again, and I’m neither perfect nor God, but I can make a difference and do right by each patient and his or her family to try to restore maximum visual function and comfort so I can improve their health the best  I can.  The doctor must champion and advocate for their patients and be the voice for those without a voice in our increasingly complex health care system.

Why do you volunteer time overseas?

Each year, I donate about 1-3 weeks of my time to volunteer with a nonprofit organization somewhere in the world; I have had the deep privilege of working with the finest volunteer doctors and nurses in Ophthalmology with such organizations as ORBIS, Sight for the Sightless, Help Mercy International, and Project HOPE in such places as Ghana, India, Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Grenada, and Zambia. In addition to working with amazing people, I have had the fortune to help restore sight with cataract surgery and cornea transplants to people in deep need of care – in America, there is one ophthalmologist per 16,000 people, but in some places in the world, there is only one for a million people. This means that people often don’t come in for their cataracts until they cannot see to eat (while in America, patients come when they cannot drive or read). So you make a huge difference in such a context, for the patient and their family, since often the youngest female in the family has had to give up school or work to take care of a  blind relative. As a bonus, handling complex cases overseas makes me a better surgeon for my patients back home. 

“Manava Seva Madhava Seva”, in Sanskrit, means “Service to man is service to God.”  The gift of sight is the most precious of our senses, and offering our time, hearts and hands to those in need around the world allows us the opportunity and privilege to make a difference by shining light into areas and lives which had been darkened by blindness.  Piercing the veil indeed offers a window into the soul. I joined Moran Eye Center in 2008 as it is home to an ideal collection of physicians, nurses, technicians, staff, scientists, and facilities; it is my honor to work with Moran’s unique ensemble of physicians and staff who reach out and touch people suffering from blindness around the globe.

International Outreach PowerPoint Slideshow