By Michael e. Rauser, MD, chair, Department of Ophthalmology, LLUSM
The Loma Linda University Eye Institute (LLUEI) strives to be the center of excellence for eye care in the Inland Empire. We train medical students, residents, and fellows for a life of medical ministry and provide a depth and breadth of training that prepares our students for transition to academia, fellowship, or private practice.
This past year, despite the inherent barriers faced during the COVID-19 crisis, we have continued necessary practice expansion in a number of areas. We completed a major remodel of our flagship eye clinic at the Faculty Medical Clinics (FMC) on the Loma Linda University Health (LLUH) campus and opened our first full-service satellite clinic at the LLUH Beaumont/ Banning Complex in July 2020. The latter is a 4,000 square foot office to meet the need of subspecialty services in the desert cities. Currently, LLUEI performs 5,000 patient exams and 280 surgical procedures per month. Across our five clinics we employ 75 staff members, 17.4 physician FTE, three optometrists, three retina fellows, and one cornea fellow.
To meet the growing needs of the LLUH emergency department and inpatient services, we expanded our subspecialty on-call panels to include cornea, glaucoma, and neuro-ophthalmology panels in addition to the existing comprehensive and retina panels.
Our department is actively seeking to grow the surgical retina division, and this endeavor is well underway. Bailey Shen, MD, vitreoretinal fellow from the Mayo Clinic, joined the department in October 2020 for additional fellowship training focused on complex vitreoretinal surgery. He joins our faculty in spring 2021. Moises Enghelberg, MD, our current first-year surgical vitreoretinal fellow, will join our department after fellowship completion in July 2022. Kakarla Chalam, MD, has tailored his busy practice to meet the surgical retina demands at LLUH and Riverside University Health System (RUHS), averaging 65 OR cases per month. In addition, Joseph Fan, MD, has focused his clinical practice on pediatric retina and ocular oncology.
The department successfully recruited two comprehensive ophthalmologists to assist with clinical care and instruction at the LLUH and RUHS practices. Linda Vargas, MD, a specialist in cornea and comprehensive ophthalmology joined us in the fall of 2020. She is an experienced surgeon and former chief of ophthalmology at the Veterans Association Medical Center in Fresno, California. Craig White, MD, also joined our faculty last fall, after completing a corneal fellowship in our department. They join Jeffrey Ing ’92 whose surgical experience on mission trips will allow us to expand the number of mission trip opportunities for residents and attendings once it is safe to do so. We are excited about the expertise and passion these providers bring to both the LLUH and RUHS facilities.
Our newly expanded residency program will reach a full complement of 15 residents by July 2021. Last spring we graduated four excellent and well prepared residents, including two School of Medicine alumni: Charles Maddux ’16 and Abby Vercio ’16; both went into private practice. Our attending staff continues to grow along with our expanding resident numbers and clinic sites.
The ophthalmology department’s clinical trials research remains strong, with four dedicated research coordinators anchoring the department. Our contributions to investigator-initiated research in peer-reviewed publications is accelerating. In the past two years, members of our department have contributed to 27 publications.
The hard work and dedication of our faculty, residents, and ancillary staff have allowed us to not only survive but excel through a most difficult “time of trouble.” The challenge of meeting the growing eye care needs of the Inland Empire remains great; yet, we face each challenge with the knowledge the Lord is continually leading us in our mission to serve. We give God the glory for the success of our department and cede to His guidance for our future plans.
Dr. Rauser, chair of the LLUEI, is an associate professor for the School of Medicine. In his free time he enjoys biking, gardening, and cheering for his favorite sports teams (Baltimore Orioles and Ravens).
OPHTHALMOLOGY FACULTY SPOTLIGHTS:
Samantha E. Perea ’04
Dr. Perea is originally from Redondo Beach, California. She earned her master’s degree in anatomy along with her medical degree at Loma Linda University School of Medicine (LLUSM) and stayed for an internal medicine internship. She received her residency training in ophthalmology at the University of South Florida, where she also served as chief resident. After fellowship training in glaucoma at the University of Wisconsin, she returned to LLUSM as a faculty member.
Dr. Perea is a highly skilled surgeon with over 17 years of experience. Her clinical interests include cataract surgery, glaucoma surgery, and glaucoma laser. As the program director for the ophthalmology residency program, she has been instrumental in expanding the residency program. Conjunctively, Dr. Perea played a lead role in the reintegration of the residency into Arrowhead Regional Medical Center. Now with five rotation sites and an established two-week mission elective, the educational experience of the residency is one of the best in the nation. She goes above and beyond to create an excellent learning environment.
Dr. Perea is a member of the American Academy of Ophthalmology and the American Glaucoma Society. She is also active in several professional committees. She remains a “core” department member, and we are blessed to have her serving in these capacities.
Among her peers, Dr. Perea is known as an excellent educator who is very dedicated to her patients and residents. She is highly appreciated for her huge contribution to the department and is always a pleasure to work with.
Outside of work, Dr. Perea enjoys spending quality time with her family.
Jennifer B. Dunbar ’91
Originally from Pasadena, California, Dr. Dunbar obtained her medical degree at Loma Linda University School of Medicine (LLUSM) and stayed for her internship and ophthalmology residency. She then completed a pediatric ophthalmology fellowship at Washington University in St. Louis and later returned to LLUSM as a faculty member.
Dr. Dunbar has 24 years of experience in pediatric ophthalmic surgery, and her practice reflects her clinical interest in amblyopia and strabismus. She is the vice chair of clinical affairs for the department of ophthalmology.
Dr. Dunbar’s core value is community service, evidenced by her creation of a community screening program to identify visual problems in preschool children. The George P. Cheng Children’s Vision Screening Program, created in 2015, is Dr. Dunbar’s vision come to fruition. Currently, the program has screened over 37,536 children. It is a model for other communities to emulate. She was awarded the “Community Partner Award” by San Bernardino County’s Preschool Services Department.
Dr. Dunbar is an active member of the American Academy of Ophthalmology and American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus. Among her peers, Dr. Dunbar is known to provide outstanding clinical care in a compassionate manner. She has been an excellent teacher and mentor to both medical students and residents. Her role as principal investigator in retinopathy of prematurity studies expands the clinical trial research for the institute. Dr. Dunbar is dedicated to her patients and cares deeply for each individual she encounters.
In addition to her professional duties, Dr. Dunbar enjoys quality time with her husband, D. Duane Baldwin ’91, and their two children.