Kevin Denny wanted to be a doctor for as long as he can remember. Today, he is known by his patients for his genuine concern for their wellbeing, and by his colleagues for his deep and abiding love for their department. Clearly, his career has been impactful on many fronts.
Growing up in a village outside of Milwaukee, Denny’s idol was his family’s general practitioner who removed tonsils, delivered babies, and treated generations throughout the spectrum of life. After graduating from Harvard, and during medical school at NYU he quickly discovered that family practitioners were not in operating rooms or delivering babies which called for a shift in his plans. Internists were admired for their knowledge and surgeons for their transformative skills. How to decide which path to follow?
Luckily, during his internal medicine rotation he was assigned to a hospitalized young man with arthritis, red eyes and pain on urination, a triad known at the time as Reiter’s Syndrome. Accompanying his patient to his ophthalmology consultation Denny looked through the slit lamp, discovering beautiful but inflamed eyes. His attending ophthalmologist spoke enthusiastically about his specialty and Denny quickly noted that ophthalmology offered the opportunity to form long-term patient relationships along with surgical interventions in the OR. He was not dissuaded by a skeptical professor who claimed, “The eye is such a small structure, once you learn everything about it, you’ll get bored.” Today Denny reflects that he’s still learning, and he’s never been bored for a minute.
He remains grateful to Bruce Spivey and Bob Stamper who accepted him to what was then known as Pacific Medical Center’s residency program. It was his first choice because “it was a resident focused program on the rise with a friendly family culture in a beautiful city.” He credits residents before him like Bob Sorenson, Mark Mandel and Dave Demartini for inspiring him, noting that all of the top-tier faculty were approachable. He recalls that Bruce Spivey had the knack for asking the “simple-minded” questions that weren’t always that easy to answer during Grand Rounds.
After residency, while his wife Susan was still in a radiology residency, Denny opened his comprehensive practice from scratch, paying the bills working part-time in outside practices. Around this time, the AIDS crisis was becoming a major issue with many in danger of losing their sight from CMV Retinitis. Along with CPMC colleagues like David Heiden and Everett Ai, he is proud to have taken on this daunting challenge to preserve vision for their desperately ill patients. They offered hope and gave thousands of intravitreal injections, until HAART therapy in the mid-1990’s changed the course of this disease.
Continuing to this day, he says that the best part of his clinical practice is the longstanding relationship of trust that he has formed with his patients, whatever the challenge. According to his wife, he has been frustrated that there is no place in the EMR system to record the name of his patients’ dogs!
A commitment to learning has been a hallmark of his years of faculty service which started in 2000 when the new Chair, Susan Day asked him to become Chief of Cataract and Anterior Segment. He appreciated this exposure to the inner workings of the department and to watch a selfless leader at work. Particularly enjoyable was the opportunity to invite cataract surgery experts from around the country to come to San Francisco as Visiting Professors.
Denny has also been a huge supporter of the department’s tradition of community service. Like many faculty members, he has participated in the work of the Hospital de la Familia in Guatemala, initially volunteering the services of his 85-year old mother who is an RN, and later including his son Mathew who is now a partner in his practice.
In 2014 Susan Day invited Kevin Denny to fill out her remaining term as Interim Chair as she moved to Chicago to take on a leadership position at ACGME. He hesitated to take on the challenge of succeeding national figures in ophthalmology but what ultimately persuaded him to take on the task was his insight that the department’s biggest issues weren’t national, but local.
He was appointed Chair of the department by CPMC in 2015, continuing his distinguished service devoted to education and patient care. Creating and sustaining a stable home base for the department has been his focus as he has worked tirelessly to encourage the separate entities of CPMC, Pacific Vision Foundation, the Lions Eye Foundation and the faculty to work together synergistically to create a sustainable model for practicing ophthalmologists to thrive while engaging in the rewarding field of medical education. His commitment to fundraising in support of the residency program and the Eye Institute has resulted in a remarkable increase of community engagement.
Kevin Denny is the Director of The Pacific Vision Eye Institute, which is home to the Pacific Vision Surgery Center, The Lions Eye Clinic, the CPMC Ophthalmology residency program, the Frank Stein and Paul S. May Center for Low Vision Rehabilitation, a number of private ophthalmology practices and the Pacific Vision Foundation.
He wears many hats most gracefully.