Hasenin Al-khersan has been formally named the 2016 Koch Kellan Scholar by Paragon BioTeck, Inc. Paragon Gives, a Paragon BioTeck initiative, awards the Koch Kellan Scholarship to an outstanding graduate medical student committed to pursuing a clinical, teaching or research career in ophthalmology. Read on for a Q&A with our fascinating 2016 Koch Kellan Scholar.
Interested in becoming our next Koch Kellan Scholar? Learn more at KochKellan.com
Q: What sparked your initial interest in ophthalmology?
When I was still very young, I immigrated to New Zealand from Iraq along with several members of my immediate family. As refugees, we were lucky to leave a full decade before my grandmother, who stayed in Iraq through the sanctions and the beginning of the 2003 War. By the time my family and I moved to the United States, my grandmother had a severe case of glaucoma, worsened by the insufficient care available to her in Iraq.
Starting at the age of ten, I accompanied my grandmother to her glaucoma appointments in the United States to serve as a translator. Aiding my grandmother in her struggle to save her vision served as my first exposure to ophthalmology. The saga sparked my interest in vision and cultivated my appreciation for the centrality of sight to quality of life.
Q: How does ophthalmology relate to your interests in medical ethics and social responsibility?
I consider ophthalmology a socially conscious branch of medicine with the potential to help correct social disparities. As co-chair of Sight Savers, for example, I organized free vision and glaucoma screenings throughout Chicago’s low-income South Side community. I found that many people, like my grandmother, encounter obstacles accessing basic ophthalmic care, which often leads to the exacerbation of potentially manageable diseases like glaucoma and diabetes.
Q: Tell us more about your research experience.
I am currently working as part of a research team to develop an inexpensive, portable glaucoma screening tool that will help bring ophthalmic care to those who need it most. The tool, called “Simfield,” is a computer-simulated, virtual reality visual field test. It was selected for the Booth School of Business I-Corp incubator program, which is supported by the National Science Fund. Having that kind of support is both important and exciting.
Q: How will the Koch Kellan Scholarship assist in the pursuit of your goals?
I am honored by the fellowships and grants I’ve received supporting my development in medical ethics and academic research. However, scholarships targeted toward future ophthalmologists are comparatively rare. Not only does the Koch Kellan Scholarship provide me with substantial financial support, but it also recognizes how serious I am about ophthalmology as a career. I am excited by the opportunity presented by Paragon BioTeck to join Drs. Koch and Kellan, along with other industry leaders, at the upcoming American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery (ASCRS) annual meeting. These generous opportunities and contributions to my education only further my obligation to become an outstanding ophthalmologist.
(Editor’s note: Read Hasenin’s thoughts on the 2016 ASCRS•ASOS annual meeting).
Q: What kind of career do you hope to build?
Ultimately, I envision myself working with one foot in academia and the other in my community, continuing to craft interdisciplinary solutions to close gaps in visual health. As a refugee, I have taken care to reflect upon my obligations as a future physician, and hope to become a responsible doctor worthy of my patients.