Even before college, excited by all of the opportunities medicine had to offer, Ferhina Ali knew that she wanted to be a physician. She applied and was accepted to the University of Rochester’s Early Medical Scholars Program, which granted her admission to Rochester’s medical school upon graduation from college. But somewhere along her career path, she veered off-course, and found the commanding interplay of research with medicine to be uniquely inspiring. She likens her journey to a line of verse from the Persian poet Rumi: “Come, seek, for search is the foundation of fortune: every success depends on focusing the heart.”
A neuroscience major, Ali took on a number of research projects, including one that explored how stress during puberty affects neurobiological function, and another on the brain’s facial recognition system. Now hooked on research, she was especially drawn to research in vision, and she completed her senior honors thesis on the neuronal basis of visual recovery in stroke patients. “Although I have often attributed my interest in vision to getting eyeglasses at a very young age, through my work, I soon recognized the elegance of the visual system—neat and well defined,” she says. “It demanded an attention to detail that suited my personality so well.”
Ali soon recognized the enormous potential for progress in public health ophthalmology, since much of global blindness can be prevented or easily cured. The two main obstacles are resources and access to care: public health problems. That’s why, as an undergraduate, Ali founded the Rochester chapter of Unite for Sight (UFS), a volunteer-based organization devoted to preventing blindness around the world. It’s why her research interests brought her to the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, where she worked on a randomized clinical trial in Delhi examining low-cost, ready-made eyeglasses to treat refractive error, which is a major cause of vision impairment globally.
Vitreoretinal Surgery Fellow, The Wills Eye Hospital