Meet the Visionaries – Dr Shanu Subbiah

As we head into the final weeks of the year, we thought we’d bring you another popular Meet the Visionaries Q&A, todays feature is with Dr Shanu Subbiah – cataract, corneal and laser surgery specialist, who has been with Eye Institute since 2013.

Dr Subbiah’s easy manner and affable nature have found a natural home in New Zealand medicine. His emphasis is on providing personalised, tailored treatment for your eyes. He has expertise in both corneal and retinal conditions and holds substantive positions at the Auckland District Health Board and The University of Auckland as well as his role at Eye Institute.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

It really depended on what I had been watching on TV, so I went through astronaut, archaeologist (Indiana Jones), Spy (James Bond, after watching Moonraker I realised I could be a spy and an astronaut at the same time, score!!) and Spiderman. As every 8-year-old boy knows radiation gives you superpowers. If I’d ever figured out a way to get the microwave to work with the door open we’d probably not be having this conversation.

Who inspires you most? (professionally and/or in daily life)

It changes but there are some constants. My Mum and Dad are right up there for lots of reasons but they were also instrumental in making sure I had a boot firmly up my backside “encouraging” me to work. Also (whilst I’m not trying to get brownie points) my wife Charlotte. I met her on the first day of my Corneal fellowship. I’m pretty sure she thought I was a bit of a muppet: she found my lost hospital ID (I had been in Greenlane a grand total of 10 minutes) and was trying to unsuccessfully get into theatre. She initially trained as an optometrist, then did a PhD on corneal crosslinking then decided to do medicine. We had 2 children during her medical degree and she still graduated with distinction and several prizes. It became very apparent to me that it’s a real challenge when it comes to juggling family and a career and to have both is difficult even with lots of support. (It just took me getting married to find this out). She made the entire process look easy.

What do you enjoy most about the work you do?

Medicine is a great profession because there really is something for everyone. We got very little exposure to ophthalmology in medical school and I was actually halfway through basic surgical training before I applied for ophthalmic jobs, I’d done some neurosurgery, cardiothoracic and general surgery but wanted a bit of a change. I loved the mix of medicine and surgery and the enormous variety of the work. The patients are always very appreciative and as a bonus the hours are quite social. We also have some of the best toys; lasers, high powered microscopes with head up displays, scanners that track the flow of blood cells etc. Whilst my job at Eye Institute is becoming increasingly cataract and refractive focused, I still do a fair bit of Medical Retina and Cornea as well as some glaucoma and minor lid surgery. I spend just under half my time at Greenlane with a few sessions a month in the acute clinic which is always interesting. It’s a bit selfish but if I’m honest I think I might get a bit bored if I just did my sub-speciality 100% of the time. I also think that all of us should maintain a certain level of general ophthalmic and medical knowledge. My biggest regret was not spending more time working in other medical specialities before focusing on ophthalmology. Being able to assess and manage basic medical problems is essential. I never panic when I’m asked to assess and treat someone with chest pain or shortness of breath so I’m pretty useful until the real doctors get there.

What is one thing people would be surprised to learn about you?

I’ve had a couple of strange jobs when I was younger, I did quite normal stuff like work behind a bar (unsurprisingly lots of fun), in the clinical records department of a hospital (not as much fun) and in a pharmacy. I did spend one holiday picking rhubarb. It’s grown in huge hot warehouses and its pitch black, it grows so fast that you can hear the creaks and pops as its growing. I’m also an ordained minister but that’s a story for another day!