Featured Faculty Fridays: Dimitra Skondra, MD, PhD

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While most six-year-olds have dreams of being a firefighter or a ballerina when they grow-up, Dimitra Skondra, MD, PhD, told her teacher she wanted to be a cardiothoracic surgeon someday.  In her home country of Greece, she had watched on the news that her idol, the Prime Minister, had gone to London to undergo cardiac bypass surgery after suffering from a heart attack.  “Even from a young age, it was obvious the tremendous impact you can have on society by providing medical care,” she recalls. “I never had any kind of dilemma about what I should choose as my profession.” 

Dr. Skondra attended the University of Crete Medical School, and a professor helped her become interested in the fascinating field of ophthalmology.  “Once I was exposed to the beauty of ophthalmic surgery and its fascinating pathophysiology—and the impact it has on people’s quality of life—I knew the specialty was the choice for me,” she explains.  She was selected for ophthalmology electives at Columbia and Harvard Medical School, where she was exposed to retina research as a medical student.  She became a research fellow at Massachusetts Eye & Ear Infirmary (MEEI) under the mentorship of Drs. Evangelos Gragoudas and Joan Miller.  At MEEI, she had what she now calls her “defining moment,” observing surgery on a funnel retinal detachment.  “I clearly remember thinking, ‘this is what I want to do.’”  She studied as a resident at Cornell and then returned to Harvard Medical School/MEEI for her vitreoretinal fellowship under the mentorship of Dr. Gragoudas.

After learning that fellow MEEI colleague Dr. Kathryn Colby was going to be revamping the University of Chicago’s Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Science, Dr. Skondra was intrigued. “I have known and admired Dr. Colby for more than 10 years, and I was truly inspired by her vision for the department at U of C.  I really felt that under her leadership, this would be the right place for me to pursue my passion for the best possible retinal care of patients,” she explains.  “The University of Chicago is one of the leading research institutions in the world, and here I can collaborate on innovative research with top physicians and scientists.”

We were happy to have Dr. Skondra join our team in October of 2016.  Besides seeing patients in clinic and operating on them in the OR, she is also busy writing papers and furthering her research.  “My work on animal models of macular degeneration has provided some new insights on the effect of high-fat diet and lipid metabolism on AMD,” she describes.  “I am working on expanding this knowledge for potential new preventative treatments for AMD through collaborations with scientists as the University of Chicago.”

What do you think you would be doing if you had not gone into ophthalmology?  “I think I could have been an architect or working in a nonprofit for social disparities in higher education opportunities.  Or a fashion editor!” (Author’s note: Dr. Skondra definitely has an amazing sense of style!)

Where can you be found on the weekends?  “Spending time with my husband and my friends, exploring the city.  Or maybe hanging out in a coffee shop somewhere in Logan Square with my computer, drinking coffee and brainstorming about research.  I also love traveling back to Greece to see my family—and soaking up the sun by water of any form (lake, river, ocean, pool)!”

Any final thoughts about the future?  “Ophthalmology is going through very exciting times and big breakthroughs are being pioneered as we speak.  In 10-20 years, or maybe even sooner, the way we practice ophthalmology and retina will probably be somewhat different from what it is now.  I can’t wait to be part of it and give better outcomes—and more options—to our patients.”

To make an appointment with Dr. Dimitra Skondra, please call 773-702-3937.