Following the Fellows highlights Dr. Linda Cernichiaro Espinosa

RetinaLink’s Following the Fellows is pleased to feature Dr. Linda Alejandra Cernichiaro Espinosa, who is a Pediatric Retina Research Scholar, at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in Miami, Florida. Dr. Cernichiaro Espinosa is one of Dr. Audina Berrocal’s fellows and plans to return to Mexico after she completes her fellowship in June. RetinaLink contacted Dr. Berrocal about Dr. Cernichiaro Espinosa and she said, “Linda is soft-spoken but don’t let that fool you. She is strong, focus, dedicated, smart woman on her way to a great surgical career.”

RetinaLink (RL): Where did you go to Medical school?

Dr. Linda Cernichiaro Espinosa (LCE): I went to medical School at the “Universidad de Guadalajara”. Then, I moved to Mexico City for my ophthalmology residency and Retina and Vitreous fellowship at the Asociación para Evitar la Ceguera en México (APEC).

RL: Why did you choose Retina versus another subspecialty?
LCE: I like challenges and every single retina case represents one; even the “easiest” one can turn into the most interesting case ever. I have learned two important things in Retina. First, “it is never simple” and two, before each surgery its important NOT to think “this one, I’ll do it fast, for sure”. Retina enhances creativity. I was lucky to have been trained by incredibly creative people. I love creating things, videos, images and drawings. When I am inside of the eye, I feel that there is whole new world full of possibilities, even though most of them have already been described by someone else. Hopefully, I will be able to contribute to the field some day.  

RL: What was the biggest surprise in your first year of Fellowship?
LCE: The number of things unknown about the retina!

RL: You are planning to return to Mexico after your Fellowship with Dr. Berrocal to practice pediatric retina. Why did you apply to train with Dr. Berrocal at BPEI?
LCE: I have followed Dr. Audina (Nina) Berrocal’s work since I fell in love with kids. Dr. Maria Ana Martínez, Mexico, was my first pediatric Retina mentor. I remember when I was a second year resident, Dr. Martínez said so many great things about “Nina” that I just wanted to see how all of those things could be possible! I am fortunate to be at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute. Every day I learn SO much about pediatric Retina. I’m also impressed by the manner Dr. Berrocal manages her entire team that specializes in kids: nurses, photographers, program coordinator, fellows, technicians. “Dr. Nina or Dr. B” is a great woman. It’s like having a science fiction character from my favorite comic book when I’m with her. Dr. B teaches me life lessons, medicine, and how to have fun. I am extremely lucky. We will have to adapt the Bascom program to our existing one in Mexico. APEC has the capacity to do it. The next step is for Dr. Martínez to integrate changes to our current program. We have an enormous amount of work to do for our pediatric patients.

RL: How are pediatric patients different from adults when it comes to their vision and retinal treatment?
LCE: Pediatric retina surgery is about patience during each step throughout the surgery. When it comes to pediatric patients and their care, my pediatrician parents (yes, they are THE ones that influenced my love for children) taught me: babies do not speak, so when they cry they’re saying, “I am hungry, I am angry, I don’t like this, I want more.” Essentially, it’s all about trying to understand their needs and illnesses with body language. Toddlers and children will tell you the truth, if you ask properly. Everything centers about playing and I love that. The most important thing to remember is children have parents. If their parents do not like you or trust you, they won’t allow you to treat their child, it just will not happen. Their well-being relies entirely on their parents engagement. I’ve always thought that I was good speaking with parents; but, now that I’m with Dr. B, I’m amazed by the way she understands them and yet, guides them on what to do. Dr. B listens carefully and then, speaks after understanding the issues. Dr. B is a mother and a woman which is part of her greatness as a Pediatric Retina specialist. Actually, I, now, have another reason to become a mother: for the sake of science!

RL: What is your favorite hand-held instrument and why?
LCE: I have done some work and research with the handheld OCT. The current technology is still limited; however, it provides more information on pediatric patients. Previously, it was almost impossible due to lack of cooperation and requirement to sit up straight.

RL: Is that different than what your Attending Physicians use during surgery?
LCE: I don’t think so. I believe OCT is an option for adults in a clinical setting, unlike it is for children. Any device in the OR is useful for both adults and children; however, surgical techniques must be adapted accordingly.

RL: What is most challenging on a day-to-day basis?
LCE: Visual prognosis. Most retinal diseases carry a high risk of having disappointing visual results especially in children. But here’s the takeaway: there are a lot of things to be done in the field to make it better in every way.

RL: What is your favorite place to vacation when you have a few days off?
LCE: Any place with nature: beach, mountain, jungle, wooded areas. Swimming, hiking and running are my favorite things. You will never see me taking days off to visit big cities, unless I am there for a meeting or special event.

RL: What’s your advice for incoming Fellows in July?
LCE: Always, always ask questions. There will always be a mentor that has faced a similar situation and will help you go through the process. Your hands eventually listen to your brain. Think of each patient as an entire book to avoid frustration. This is really the key. If you take each and every patient as they are the “only one”, they will know it. In the end, you will just end up loving everything that happens during your fellowship. It is the year where you will only do what you love the most: RETINA.

Dr. Linda Cernichiaro Espinosa can be reached via e-mail at linda.cernichiaro@gmail.com

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