PHYSICIAN VOICES
Meet the Ophthalmologist: Thyroid Eye Disease

Was this helpful?
(28)
Catherine Liu

Catherine Y. Liu, MD, is a board-certified ophthalmologist specializing in ophthalmic plastic and reconstructive surgery at UC San Diego’s Shiley Eye Institute. In our “Meet the Specialist” series, we highlight the unique perspectives of various medical specialists on the types of patients they see and what they find rewarding and challenging in their daily practice.

We rely so much on our eyes and vision. If you struggle with cataracts, or thyroid eye disease, or even if you’ve accidentally scratched your eye, you know how loss of normal vision can really slow you down or even prevent you from doing what you need to do every day. I decided to become an ophthalmologist–a doctor who treats diseases affecting the eyes and vision–because the eyes are so important to our everyday functioning. Helping people regain or retain their vision is extremely rewarding and I feel lucky to be able to make a big difference in someone’s life.

Ophthalmologists are different from other eye health professionals like optometrists, as we are medical doctors who also perform eye surgery. And as an ophthalmologist with a subspecialty in ophthalmic plastic and reconstructive surgery, I deal primarily with problems affecting the soft tissue and bones surrounding the eye. When I see patients with thyroid eye disease, a condition in which inflammation causes structural changes, pain, and discomfort in the tissues around the eyes, they often have bulging eyes and other symptoms, and it’s rewarding to be able to help them with medical and surgical treatment. I’ve been practicing ophthalmology now for about six years, and I love what I do.

My Path to Ophthalmology

During my time as an undergraduate, I did a lot of biomedical research, which I really enjoyed. One doctor in the lab I worked in was a physician and a PhD research scientist. As I worked closely with him, it became clear that he had the best of both worlds: he could see patients and help them directly every day, while also work on the back-end to do research and make discoveries that improve the way we treat diseases. That really appealed to me, so I decided to pursue the same joint degree, and it was definitely the right fit.

In medical school, we did lots of different rotations so we could explore a variety of specialties. Once I had my ophthalmology rotation, the choice was obvious to me. I knew right away helping people restore their sight was what I wanted to do, and I still look forward to coming in to the clinic every day. Ophthalmology fascinates me because the shape and structure of everyone’s eyelids are so unique, so every patient is different. And I love that I can treat a diverse group of people, from kids to seniors, dealing with a wide variety of conditions.

My Typical Day

My days vary because I play many roles; I treat patients medically, perform surgeries, and conduct research, on top of teaching medical students, ophthalmology residents, and fellows. I’ll usually start my day at 7:30am and see between 20 and 30 patients by mid-day. I’ll also spend time consulting with other members of our eye health care team and other specialists such as our radiologists, so we’re all on the same page and able to give each patient the best care possible. And I’ll take time to make patient phone calls throughout the day as well. Towards the end of the day, I’ll sit and review the patient cases I have and take time to teach the ophthalmology residents and fellows in the clinic. I really loved this aspect of learning during my training, so I try to do the same thing now that I’m in the educator’s role. Some days of the week I’ll perform surgeries and others I’ll spend in the lab doing research. I’m definitely busy, but I have a lot of help and most of the time, my job is really fun.

Finding the Right Ophthalmologist

It can be challenging sometimes to find the right doctor, and friends and family often ask me what characteristics they should look for in a potential healthcare provider. I tell them the most important thing, in my opinion, is finding someone you connect with. Ophthalmology is a very specialized field, and a lot of terminology is going to sound foreign and complicated. If your doctor isn’t explaining the details to you in ways you can understand, then it’s going to be hard to follow their recommendations and treatment plan. Yes, it’s important for doctors to be knowledgeable and skilled, but being able to trust and communicate with them is important too, so find someone with whom you can develop a strong relationship.

Was this helpful?
(28)
THIS CONTENT DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. This content is provided for informational purposes and reflects the opinions of the author. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified healthcare professional regarding your health. If you think you may have a medical emergency, contact your doctor immediately or call 911.
Explore Thyroid Disorders
  • A thyroid screening test is used to measure thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) levels to see if the thyroid is functioning properly. Learn more about thyroid screening guidelines, including when doctors recommend thyroid screening for newborns.
    September 17, 2020
  • Types of thyroid disorders are defined by whether the thyroid functions too little (hypothyroidism), too much (hyperthyroidism) or becomes affected by an autoimmune disorder. Learn more about how doctors approach treatment for each type of thyroid disease.
    September 17, 2020
  • Thyroid disorders treatment can include medications like iodine or levothyroxine to supplement thyroid hormone production. Learn more about treatment options for thyroid disorders and which one might be right for you.
    September 17, 2020
  • Get information you might not know about thyroid disease, including types of thyroid disorders, symptoms of thyroid disorders in females, and how symptoms like losing weight and bulging eyes might indicate thyroid disease.
    September 15, 2020
Recommended Reading
Health Spotlight
Next Up
  • With thyroid disorders, you either have too much or not enough thyroid hormone. These disorders can cause bothersome symptoms—both physical and emotional.
  • If you have an underactive thyroid gland, you may experience weight gain, sluggishness, and continuously feeling cold. When you're hungry, here are the best types of food to reach for.
  • Certain foods, supplements and medications can interfere with your daily thyroid medication, so it's helpful to know what to avoid and what to approach with caution.
Answers to Your Health Questions
Trending Videos