Sierra Donor Services Eye Bank
Dr. Jennifer Li is the current Chair of the EBAA Medical Advisory Board. She is also the medical director for Sierra Donor Services, and a Professor at the Department of Ophthalmology & Vision Science at the University of California, Davis.
Growing up in Northern Virginia, Jennifer was encouraged by her parents to explore her interest in the sciences.She attended the prestigious Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, so it was unsurprising that she pursued Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry at Yale University.
Entering medical school at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Jennifer thought she’d probably spend her career in primary care – she hadn’t even considered ophthalmology. But medical school revealed many different paths and possibilities, and ophthalmology turned out to be the perfect fit. It was an opportunity to develop long-term relationships with patients while being able make a significant impact in something that is so important to them – their vision. “Vision,” she says, “is such huge part of everything we do. My work allows me to tangibly improve someone’s quality of life.”
Jennifer has benefited from valuable mentors, both men and women, in each step of her education and career. She notes that “women supporting women is so important. That support system helps ensure that you are seen, heard, and valued in the field.”
She acknowledges that she’s fortunate to have not experienced overt sexism in her career, but recognizes that women are often held to higher standards than men. When asked what advice she would give to young girls and women looking to enter the sciences, she says, “It’s important to be yourself. Don’t allow other people’s perception of you to get in the way. Do what you love, do your best work, and have the self-confidence to realize that what you’re doing is right.”
The generation of women who came before Jennifer in ophthalmology and eye banking helped pave the way for her and make her journey in medicine easier. She credits, among others, women like Marian Macsai MD, Ellen Heck MT (ASCP), MA, CEB, and Donna Drury MBA, CEBT, CTBS, from EBAA as huge influences and supporters who went above and beyond to champion her within the organization.
With 50% of enrollment in medical schools now being women, Jennifer believes the tide is turning on the gender imbalance in the field, but women still need to fight to be heard and to achieve positions of leadership.
To recruit more women to medicine, she suggests ongoing conversations about how our own implicit biases may be perpetuating certain tendencies or culture of the profession. She notices that expert panels at meetings and conferences often underrepresent women. “Women need to be more self-promotional. Women are taught very early on to downplay their achievements. I hope to see women be champions for other women since we don’t champion ourselves as well as we should.”
Looking back, she’d tell her younger self to not let external voices dampen her interests and passions, and to surround herself with like-minded people to encourage her pursuits. She adds, “Women contribute a different perspective and viewpoint, and look at problems differently than men. They have a lot to add to the conversation – hopefully we’ll be hearing from them more and more.”