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How I Started

I remember the exact moment when I became fascinated by eyes.

I was a sophomore at Harvard. I came in from a bright fall day to a dark lecture hall to hear Professor George Wald give his famous lecture on the eye. Dr Wald had just won the Nobel Prize for discovering that the visual pigment inside the eye was made of Vitamin A, joined to a protein called opsin.

Dr Wald explained how this visual pigment, rhodopsin, creates sight when it breaks apart after it is struck by light. I was fascinated. A cross section of the eye flashed up on the screen. Dr Wald told us all the different complicated parts and how they worked. I can still remember that slide, and everything he said that day. I was hooked. This was the most interesting thing I had ever heard.

Dr Cynthia MacKay lecturing on macular degeneration at the renowned Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

After the lecture, I went right up to one of Dr Wald’s assistants, Dr John Dowling, and begged him to let me work with him in Dr Wald’s lab. For two years I did research with Dr. Dowling on rats, studying how different visual pigments worked. This work became my thesis. I was astonished when this thesis was given the grade of summa cum laude.

When I went to medical school, I had little doubt what field I would chose: ophthalmology. I have been lucky to spend the last 31 years continuing to study the eye, and helping to heal it.

Dr. MacKay has been recognized by her peers as an outstanding researcher (American Academy of Ophthalmology Honor Award) and teacher (Richard C. Troutman Master Teacher Award In Ophthalmology). She was selected by her peers to be included in “The Best Doctors, New York Metro Area”, Castle Connolly; “The Best Doctors In America, Northeast Region”, Woodward/White; and “The Best Doctors In America”, Woodward/White.

She was co-director of the ERG clinic at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital for 25 years. She was the first woman to achieve the rank of Clinical Professor of Ophthalmology at Columbia University (the highest academic title).