Sorcha Ní Dhubhghaill, MB, BCh, BaO, PhD, FEBO, FEBOS-CR | Surgical Leadership Program
Sorcha Ní Dhubhghaill is the consultant corneal and cataract surgeon and BAP professor at Antwerp University Hospital in Belgium where her academic research focuses on translational anterior segment surgery, corneal biology and physiological optics. While earning both her medical degree and PhD from Trinity College Dublin, she was awarded the Welch Allyn Prize for Ophthalmology and the Duke-Elder Undergraduate Prize from the Royal College of Ophthalmologists in the UK. Dhubhghaill is also a board member of the Belgian Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgeons, the examinations committee of the ESCRS-EBO exam and the European Board of Ophthalmology education committee.
Passionate about lifelong learning, Ní Dhubhghaill came to the Surgical Leadership Program at Harvard Medical School to advance her leadership and management skills. As a clinical surgeon, she was impressed that the faculty were able to draw not only from the medical school but also from the experiences of so many different high-stress, high-performing business backgrounds.
For Ní Dhubhghaill, learning how to innovate and patent during the program has been a game-changer: her first patent for a new treatment is currently being reviewed by the US Patent Office. “This was just a whole new world to me,” she says. “I could never have estimated what an incredible impact the program would have—it’s cut years off my career trajectory.”
During the program, Ní Dhubhghaill completed a capstone project focused on teaching cornea bank technicians in Belgium how to make very thin, advanced corneal grafts. After presenting the project to the Belgian government, she was granted a million euros to test it on a larger scale. Placing first in the capstone project continues to open doors for her.
“If what I proposed in the business case comes to fruition,” she says, “we’re going to completely change how corneas are operated on in Belgium.”
Writing the business case was also something new to Ní Dhubhghaill. The idea had been kicking around in her head for a while, but the focus and deadlines of the program provided the impetus for her to act. “The faculty also gets Harvard Business School to help you with your business plan,” she says. “So, I asked myself, ‘What are you waiting for?’”
In terms of funding interest, ophthalmology doesn’t often get the highest ranking, and everybody is looking for a piece of the pie. A huge breakthrough for Ní Dhubhghaill was realizing how important it is to pivot away from pure scientific research to more of a business approach. During the elevator pitch, for example, she learned that you don’t need a million words to convince people.
Ní Dhubhghaill is excited about the opportunities ahead. She has a big clinical trial underway to prove that her capstone business plan can be realized and hopes to become the head of the department and chair of ophthalmology within the next few years.
“The tools and the confidence that the Surgical Leadership Program has given me are just invaluable,” she says. “So, I’m pitching myself to the top!”
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