Universally respected retina specialist, Dr. Rich McDonald, has served as an inspiring teacher to countless CPMC residents and fellows, epitomizing the model of a true academic clinician. His colleagues highlight his love for the field, his enthusiasm at discovering new findings, and the joy and satisfaction of a job well done, be it diagnosing a complex medical retina case, or surgery on a tough PVR detachment. Since 2003 he and Dr. Michael Jumper have served as co-directors of the Vitreoretinal Fellowship, responsible for populating the field of retina specialists across the country.
Born in New York City, raised In San Marino, Rich was a member of the Stanford Baseball team and Rugby team. He graduated from Stanford University with honors, from UCLA Medical School and Ophthalmology Residency at UCSF. After sampling the frigid mid-west winters during his vitreoretinal fellowship at the Medical College of Wisconsin under the tutorship of Drs. Thomas Aaberg Sr., Gary Abrams, and George Williams, he returned to Northern California in 1985 to join Dr. Howard Schatz in what was later to become the West Coast Retina Medical Group.
The son of an Ophthalmologist, Rich’s passion and love for Retina was ignited during his Ophthalmology Residency by Dr. Alex Irvine and Dr. Schatz. “Howie,” as he is affectionately known, arrived each Wednesday at UCSF with carousels filled with interesting cases to teach the residents. One can only imagine the impact of his dramatic retinal photographs and passionate teaching on the young Rich McDonald, who often still quotes ‘Dr. Schatz‘s lines’ to his colleagues and students.
Dr. McDonald has authored over four hundred papers in peer reviewed journals and among his seminal publications are articles on microscope induced retinal burns, pattern dystrophies accompanying pseudoxanthoma elasticum, trematode worms traversing the subretinal space and many others. He has served as President of the Macula Society and his contributions as the Editor of the Diagnostic and Therapeutic Challenges Section of the journal Retina for over 25 years, has had worldwide influence. Along with Dr. David Sarraf and Dr. Vas Sadda, Dr. McDonald co-founded the Pacific Retina Club, the largest yearly Retina meeting in the western United States.
A key to his success as a teacher and clinician is his meticulous organization. This applies to his algorithm for managing patients clinically and every surgery that he plans. When he presents a talk or runs a panel discussion at the American Academy of Ophthalmology Retina Subspeciality Day, Dr. McDonald has always invested abundant time and thought in advance, into how he will navigate the discussion to be most impactful and educational to the audience. His punch lines from a dictum or rock and roll song are famous and his classic rock trivia sessions in the OR are legendary, according to former fellow, Joseph Alsberge.
According to his practice partners, Rich is always enriching his “team” at West Coast Retina. Even though he is capable of treating and caring for patients with exotic or unusual uveitic disorders or inherited retinal diseases, he tells his patients that he has colleagues and partners who have major interests in these conditions and refers the patient on to them. He says, “As a clinician, I may get weaker, but the team grows stronger’.
Dedicated to fellowship training beyond the clinic and OR, Rich makes it a point to spend at least an hour after clinic reviewing images of interesting patients seen that day with the fellows. He uses this opportunity to teach and reinforce clinical features, differential diagnosis, and management.
The following few reflections from his retina fellows are the true testimony to why Dr. McDonald is considered a legend in his specialty and a luminary of the Barkan society.
Rich has always maintained that when the proverbial “you know what” hits the fan, whether in the clinic or in the OR, that the physician should always say in the most calm gentle tone, “Very Good….very good.” Richard H. Roe, M.D.
I still teach my medical students many of Rich’s teaching points. Here are a few.
“Know what you know and know what you don’t know.”
“Treat the anatomy.” Robert Wong, MD
RM’s approach to us applies to all aspects of life. Mind the big picture and everything will be all right! Andy Kalevar, MD
It’s been a long time, but they were some of the best years of my life – and Dr. McDonald was a huge part of it. My first child was born while I was a fellow. We had no family on the West coast. Rich was the only one to visit us in the hospital. Harris Amin, MD
He is definitely the voice in my head! One of my favorite Rich McDonald stories – a young woman came in having seen a bunch of doctors about her eye. She even had an MRI and had a whole folder of records. Dr. McDonald did an FA and diagnosed her with CSR. The woman then said – “OK, I have a million questions! “And Rich said, “ Of course you do; that’s part of the disease!” Sara Haug, MD
Dr. McDonald was an extraordinary teacher and mentor to me. In addition to learning how to be a retina surgeon from him, I also learned how little I know about classic rock and swinging a golf club. Cheers to a man of many talents! Kevin Patel, MD