In celebration of Women’s History Month, Focus is recognizing the women of Mass Eye and Ear—both past and present. These amazing women have discovered life-changing cures, provided world-class patient care and pioneered a brighter future for ophthalmology and otolaryngology–head and neck surgery.
Breaking Down Barriers in Ophthalmology
Since its founding in 1824, women have been at the heart of Mass Eye Ear, but like many medical institutions of the time, women initially held nursing and administrative roles. Between 1914 and 1966, just five women ophthalmologists were on the medical staff at Mass Eye and Ear, and none had been accepted to its prestigious residency training program at Harvard Medical School. But social changes in the 1960s, including the Civil Rights Act of 1963 and the Vietnam War, created more opportunities for women to attend medical school and complete residency training.
Maud Carvill, MD
Dr. Carvill was the first woman on the staff at Mass Eye and Ear when she was appointed in 1914. A graduate of Tufts Medical School, she completed ophthalmology training in Europe before setting up her own practices in Boston and Somerville. Dr Carvill, who specialized in phlyctenular keratitis in children and trachoma, retired from Mass Eye and Ear in 1933.
Edith Ives Cogan, MD
Dr. Cogan was on the medical staff at Mass Eye and Ear from 1928 until 1940. Dr. Cogan completed medical training at the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1892 and initially practiced with her sister in Middletown, Connecticut before joining Mass Eye and Ear. Dr. Cogan’s son, David Glendenning Cogan, MD, would carry on her legacy at Mass Eye and Ear, becoming Chief of Ophthalmology in 1955.
Juanita Johns, MD
Dr. Johns received her medical education at Boston University School of Medicine and her ophthalmology training at the Massachusetts Memorial Hospitals. Dr. Johns—an ophthalmologist at Mass Eye and Ear from 1929 until 1940—was known to be a private person who was devoted to her work.
Bertha Offenbach, MD
Born in Massachusetts, Dr. Offenbach was discouraged by her father to attend medical school but defied him by paying her own tuition. At a time when Harvard Medical School didn’t admit women, she was able to attend the school’s basic eye course, although she was advised by her sponsor not to draw attention to herself by asking questions. A surgeon with a special interest in pediatric ophthalmology, Dr. Offenbach joined Mass Eye and Ear in 1940. Dr. Offenbach—who was the sole woman ophthalmologist on staff when Drs. Johns and Cogan retired—was a great supporter of the women faculty and trainees that would later join her at Mass Eye and Ear and encouraged leadership to recruit more women to the department.
Deborah Pavan-Langston, MD
In 1966, Dr. Pavan-Langston, MD, became the first woman to be accepted into the Harvard Ophthalmology Residency Training Program and the first woman to complete a Cornea Fellowship at Mass Eye and Ear. It’s thought that David Glendenning Cogan, MD—the son of Dr. Edith Ives Cogan and then the Chief of Ophthalmology—took a chance on Dr. Pavan-Langston to honor his mother’s legacy. There is no doubt that Dr. Cogan made the right choice, as she has had an exceptional career and paved the way for women in ophthalmology. An internationally recognized expert on ocular herpetic infections, she was appointed the first woman director of Mass Eye and Ear’s Cornea and External Disease Service in 1973. She retired from Mass Eye and Ear in 2005 but continues to serve as a Trustee.
Ann Bajart, MD
Dr. Bajart—one of two women in her 1976 Harvard Ophthalmology residency class—followed in the footsteps of Dr. Pavan-Langston, seeking advanced training in a specialty long-dominated by men. She completed her residency training and a Pediatric Ophthalmology Fellowship at Boston Children’s Hospital. She later became a partner at Ophthalmic Consultants of Boston, where she continues to practice today. A top cornea specialist and surgeon, Dr. Bajart is also dedicated to helping others advance in the field. She currently serves on the Mass Eye and Ear Board of Surgeons, has served as a Diplomate for the National Board of Medical Examiners, as well as the American Board of Ophthalmology, and is a Past-President and former long-time Board Member of the New England Ophthalmological Society (NEOS). In 2021, Dr. Bajart received the prestigious Distinguished Achievement Award from NEOS—just the second woman in the organization’s history to receive the honor.
Women Leaders of Today
Under the leadership of the late Frederick Jakobiec, MD, DSc, Chief of Ophthalmology from 1989-2002, the number of women ophthalmologists continued to grow, setting the stage for a history of firsts for women in ophthalmology and a record number of women in leadership roles in the Department of Ophthalmology.
Dr. Miller, an internationally recognized expert on retinal disorders, is Chief of Ophthalmology at both Mass Eye and Ear and Mass General Hospital, and the David Glendenning Cogan Professor of Ophthalmology and Chair of the Department of Ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Miller received her ophthalmology residency training at Harvard Ophthalmology, and then completed a fellowship in vitreoretinal surgery at Mass Eye and Ear. In 2003, Dr. Miller became the first woman physician to achieve the rank of Professor of Ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School, and the first woman to serve as Chair of the Department of Ophthalmology. She is also the first woman appointed as Chief of Ophthalmology at both Mass Eye and Ear and Mass General Hospital. Among her many awards and accolades, Dr. Miller was the first woman to receive the Mildred Weisenfeld Award for Excellence in Ophthalmology from the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology and the first woman awarded the Charles L. Schepens Award from the American Academy of Ophthalmology.
Over the last two decades, Dr. Miller and her colleagues at Mass Eye and Ear/Harvard Medical School have pioneered the development of photodynamic therapy using verteporfin (Visudyne®), the first approved pharmacological therapy able to reduce and slow vision loss in patients with age-related macular degeneration. The group also identified the key role of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) in ocular neovascularization, leading to the development of anti-VEGF therapies now administered to millions of children and adults with sight-threatening retinal diseases annually around the world.
Under Dr. Miller’s leadership, the number of women faculty members has continued to grow. Currently, more than half of all full-time faculty at Harvard Ophthalmology are women and many of them hold senior leadership roles within the Harvard Medical School department and at Mass Eye and Ear.
“We women of Mass Eye and Ear of today have benefited from the leadership and courage of those who paved the way, from Edith Ives Cogan to Debbie Langston to Ann Bajart. Together we salute you! And we look forward with hope and admiration to the rising stars and future leaders of ophthalmology.”
An internationally renowned medical geneticist, glaucoma specialist, and clinician scientist, Dr. Wiggs is the Vice Chair of Ophthalmology Clinical Research for Harvard Ophthalmology and the corresponding Associate Chief at Mass Eye and Ear, and the Associate Director of the Howe Laboratory at Mass Eye and Ear. Her pioneering work on the genetic underpinnings of glaucoma and other inherited ocular disorders has led to the development of effective screening and prevention strategies for glaucoma and other inherited eye diseases. Using a collaborative and multidisciplinary approach, she has identified genetic factors that underlie various forms of glaucoma, including adult onset primary open-angle glaucoma, pseudoexfoliation glaucoma, juvenile open angle glaucoma, and others. Her research has provided critical new insights regarding the biology of glaucoma.
An alumna of the Harvard Ophthalmology Residency Program as well as a Glaucoma Fellowship at Mass Eye and Ear, Dr. Wiggs lectures nationally and internationally and is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Dr. David L. Epstein Award and Mildred Weisenfeld Award for Excellence in Ophthalmology from the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, the Alcon Research Institute Award, the Lew R. Wasserman Merit Award from Research to Prevent Blindness, and is a member of the American Ophthalmological Society and the National Academy of Medicine.
Dr. D’Amore, Vice Chair for Ophthalmology Basic and Translational Research for Harvard Ophthalmology and the corresponding Associate Chief at Mass Eye and Ear, is an internationally recognized expert of vascular growth and development and has been at the forefront of angiogenesis research for over three decades. Among her foremost transformative contributions is the identification of VEGF as the elusive “Factor X” that causes pathological blood vessel growth in blinding neovascular eye diseases. These investigations formed the scientific foundations of anti-VEGF therapies, which were first approved for clinical use in 2004 and are currently used to treat various cancers and intraocular vascular diseases such as diabetic retinopathy and age-related macular degeneration.
Dr. D’Amore’s passionate pursuit of finding cures for blinding retinal diseases is matched only by her long-standing commitment to mentoring the next generation of ophthalmologists. Over the last two decades, she has mentored more than 100 trainees, and supported many more in their career development goals―while striving to make the field of science more accessible to a diverse population, especially women and minorities. Many of her trainees have gone on to become leading experts in the field, including seven who are now full Professors, and eight who are senior scientists at companies including Genzyme, Novartis, and Roche. Among her many accolades, Dr. D’Amore is a recipient of the Proctor Medal from the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, the Shining Example Award from her alma mater, Regis College, and the William Silen Lifetime Achievement in Mentoring Award and the Barbara McNeil Award for Exceptional Service from Harvard Medical School. She is also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Carolyn E. Kloek, MD
Dr. Kloek is a former Mass Eye and Ear Faculty member whose exceptional leadership and training methods helped raise the standards of ophthalmic education both at Harvard Ophthalmology/Mass Eye and Ear and around the world. Passionate about medical education, she served as Director of the Harvard Ophthalmology Residency Training Program from 2014 to 2018. During that time, Dr. Kloek—in collaboration with others at Mass Eye and Ear—implemented a surgical curriculum that has improved the quality and increased the quantity of surgical training for residents and improved patient outcomes. She also served as Associate Chief for Practice Management for Mass Eye and Ear and Clinical Director of Ophthalmology at Mass Eye and Ear, Longwood.
In 2019, Dr. Kloek and her family relocated from Boston to Oklahoma. She joined the ophthalmology faculty at Dean McGee Eye Institute at the University of Oklahoma, where she is Associate Director of the Residency Program. Dr. Kloek also serves as Senior Vice President of Clinical Strategy and Integration for OU Health, an academic health system of hospitals in Oklahoma.
Internationally recognized for her work in both diabetic retinopathy and uveitis, Dr. Sobrin is Vice Chair of Clinical Data Science for Harvard Ophthalmology and the corresponding Associate Chief at Mass Eye and Ear, as well as Director of the Morse Laser Center at Mass Eye and Ear. With clinical interests spanning retina, uveitis, and diabetic retinopathy, she is a key member of both the Retina and the Ocular Immunology and Uveitis Services at Mass Eye and Ear. Dr. Sobrin has made significant contributions to the field through her research on the genetic epidemiology of diabetic retinopathy, and she lends her expertise in a number of important leadership positions across Mass Eye and Ear and Mass General Brigham. A dedicated and generous teacher, Dr. Sobrin is an important role model for junior clinician scientists, including women and minorities, and she is devoted to helping her trainees advance their knowledge and develop their professional careers. In 2018, she received the inaugural Harvard Ophthalmology Excellence in Mentoring Award for her mentorship efforts.
Dr. Lorch is Associate Chief for Quality for the Department of Ophthalmology and Director of the nationally ranked Harvard Ophthalmology Residency Program. Dr. Lorch graduated from the Harvard Ophthalmology Residency Program, and then served as Chief Resident and Director of the Trauma Service at Mass Eye and Ear before joining the department full time. As part of her dedication to improving healthcare outcomes and quality, she earned a Master of Public Health degree in Clinical Effectiveness at the Harvard Chan School of Public Health. Her thesis project involved a study using telemedicine to improve access to care of urgent ophthalmic complaints—an area in which she continues to push forward. She is also spearheading a pilot program at Mass Eye and Ear to provide comprehensive ophthalmology care and disease screenings to underserved communities in the Boston area.
Dr. Chang is Associate Chief for Regional Operations and Site Director of Mass Eye and Ear, Stoneham, where she oversees all clinical ophthalmology care. She graduated from the Harvard Ophthalmology Residency Program and then completed a Cornea, External Disease, and Refractive Surgery Fellowship at Mass Eye and Ear, where she was named Chief Clinical Fellow. Dr. Chang then joined the department full time as a member of both the Comprehensive Ophthalmology Service and Cornea and Refractive Surgery Service, specializing in cataract surgery and corneal disorders, with a particular focus on tumors of the ocular surface. In her role as Associate Chief for Regional Operations, she oversees all ophthalmology suburban locations and leads network planning. Dr. Chang also works with Mass Eye and Ear President John Fernandez and the leadership team of Mass General Brigham Integrated Care to expand ophthalmology services in the region.
Dr. Chang’s research interests include bioinformatics (developing software tools that help store, retrieve, and analyze biological data) and the development of enhanced electronic patient medical record systems. She worked closely with Mass General Brigham to build and implement EPIC’s ophthalmology module—used by all ophthalmologists at Mass General Brigham-affiliated practices—and received the 2018 Norman Knight Leadership Development Award for her exceptional contributions to this project.