Meet the visionaries. – Dr William Cunningham

Do you know what the most common reversible cause of blindness is in the world? The answer is cataracts.

Cataract & Retinal Surgeon

This week we would like to introduce you to Dr William Cunningham who is a Cataract and Retinal Surgeon at Eye Institute. Read on below to find out more about Dr Cunningham as part of our Meet the Visionaries series.

1. What do you love the most about what you do?

The ability to help people with a wide variety of eye conditions from all walks of life. I not only work at Eye Institute but also for the Auckland District Health Board and I also partake in pro-bono work across the Pacific Islands. I feel very fortunate to be in a position where I can make a difference to people’s lives so positively. As a retinal surgeon, I also enjoy being able to operate on all parts of the eye (front to back) which is something not all of my colleagues are lucky enough to experience.

2. Tell us something that most people don’t know about you?

I wanted to be an All Black! My youth, like many other Kiwi kids I suppose, was spent playing a lot of footy, representing North Harbour, Ponsonby Rugby Club and Auckland up until the age of 20. It was around that time I was exposed to ophthalmology at medical school and had a change of heart. I knew that becoming an eye surgeon was for me! I never liked that rugby players were, at least in my day, often stereotyped as “all brawn, no brains”, so from a very young age I set out to try and dispel that myth (yes, it is a myth!).

Can you give us some examples?

I was awarded a boarding scholarship to attend Mt Albert Grammar School which provided me with an excellent secondary education. I was then awarded the top prize in ophthalmology and the top prize in surgery at medical school. More recently I have been active in ophthalmology research and publications.

I have my parents to thank for instilling a strong work ethic in myself and my sister from a young age. My Dad was a bricklayer from the UK and my mum a legal secretary whose parents were from Samoa, so they always emphasised the importance of education. This is something that I will, no doubt, pass on to my own children.

Oh, another random fact is that I’m left handed but do a lot of stuff right handed, including cataract surgery as when I was training I was taught by right handed surgeons!

3. What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

I really enjoy quality time with my wife Hayley and my son Joshua who has just turned four. Josh is a lot of fun at this age and I’m not at all pressuring him to take up rugby (wink, wink) hahaha!

I come from a very musical family and I still enjoy playing the guitar and drums whenever possible. I am currently on the lookout for an electric drum kit so I can teach my son how to play without disturbing the neighbours too much.

4. We already know that you’re passionate about giving back in the community, tell us a little more?

I am current NZ Chair of the RANZCO Maori and Pasifika committee, a group of New Zealand eye surgeons working to address some of the poor ophthalmic health outcomes, such a diabetic retinopathy, keratoconus and cataract (to name a few), impacting those people indigenous to Aotearoa and the Pacific.

This is a very large task that will involve a huge effort over time, but it is something I feel very passionately about, especially given I am one of just a handful of Ophthalmologists in New Zealand with Maori or Pacific heritage.