Category Archives: Medical careers for people with blindness or low vision

Doctors with Blindness and Vision Loss Break Attitudinal Barriers

Dr. Jeffrey Gazzara, DO, is a resident in neuromusculoskeletal medicine at Mercy Health Muskegon in Muskegon, Mich. According to an article in DO, from the American Osteopathic Association, Dr. Gazzara is legally blind.

A three-dimensional white figure wears glasses, walks with a white cane, and has a yellow arm band with three black dots.
What preconceptions do you have about what a person who is blind or has low vision can or can’t do? Do you believe they can be doctors? If you don’t believe they can, are you basing that on your experience with sight, or on your experience with blindness?

Dr. Jeffery Gazzara, DO

As with doctors with blindness before him, Dr. Gazzara says that treating the patient is easiest. Adapting to existing medical systems is more difficult for a doctor with vision loss.

“During my clinical years,” he said, “I was rotating in a different hospital every month. That was difficult because I use a special computer system and I had to reconfigure it to access each hospital’s electronic medical record system.”

Dr. Jacob Bolotin

Dr. Gazzara is among other doctors influenced by the success of Dr. Jacob Bolotin, who became the world’s first fully licensed medical doctor, and who was blind since birth.

this picture is a graphic of two hands forming a heart and showing a heart beat pattern. The heart also makes multiple hearts as a representation of beats.
Together with captions for pictures, Sign Shares’ blog posts include Alternate Text for people who use screen readers. That way, they will know that this picture is a graphic of two hands forming a heart and showing a heart beat pattern. Photo credit: geralt, pixabay

According to a National Federation of the Blind article, Dr. Jacob Bolotin “fought prejudice and misconceptions about the capabilities of blind people in order to win acceptance to medical school and then into the medical profession. He was one of the most respected physicians in Chicago in the early twentieth century, particularly well known for his expertise on diseases of the heart and lungs.”

Commenting in 1914 on Dr. Bolotin’s accomplishments, the Philadelphia Inquirer observed, “It is one of the most amazing instances of mind triumphant over physical handicaps that the world has ever known… [Dr. Bolotin] will rank with Helen Keller as one of the wonderful blind persons of history.”

Dr. David Hartman

According to a Gettysburg College article, Dr. David Hartman, a psychiatrist and author, was the first blind person to complete medical school in the U.S.

Dr. Hartman lost his sight at age 8 to glaucoma, according to the article. Though he earned a bachelor’s degree with highest honors and distinction, he was rejected by nine medical schools.

Dr. Hartman wrote a story of his medical experiences, White Coat, White Cane: The Extraordinary Odyssey of a Blind Physician, which was published in 1978, and is the subject of a television movie, Journey from Darkness.

Dr. Timothy Cordes, MD

Dr. Timothy Cordes, MD, has progressive vision loss and is on staff at William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital in Madison, Wis.

Dr. Cordes is a psychiatrist who specializes in Addictive Behaviors.

According to an article in The Braille Monitor, Dr. Cordes  interviewed at a residency in the northeast. His interviewer asked, “You know, I just don’t get it. How are you going to know what’s going on with a patient?”

He said, “Well I know you’re reading your email right now as you are talking to me.” Dr. Cordes attributed his sense of humor to part of his success.

Graphic shows a three dimensional model of the bones of the lower part of the spine, hips, and pelvis.
Anatomical models are one of many tools people with low vision or blindness can use during medical education.

Dr. Cordes did things many people with sight might find extraordinary, such as operating: “I scrubbed in, holding that retractor for hours on end. I reached into live people’s bellies and identified organs and blood vessels. I caught babies. In pediatrics I examined kids. One of the children’s parents was a guy I knew. He said, after they finished the exam and walked out, his son said, ‘That was fine, Dad, but who was the dog for?'”

For an Eyeway.org article, Dr. Cordes was asked if there were people who were skeptical about his wanting to study Medicine.

He said, “Everybody but the University of Wisconsin! All the other places just said, ‘No, thanks.'”

According to an NBC News report, “In a world where skeptics always seem to be saying, stop, this isn’t something a blind person should be doing, it was one more barrier overcome. There are only a handful of blind doctors in this country. But Cordes makes it clear he could not have joined this elite club alone. ‘I signed on with a bunch of real team players who decided that things are only impossible until they’re done,’ he says.”

Sign Shares Logo of hands and slogan, Interpreting Your WorldAt Sign Shares, we believe in exploring our potential and horizons and not putting limitations on what a person can do.

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