Continuing Iowa’s Global Work: Kanwal Singh Matharu, MD

Kanwal Singh Matharu, MD joined the department in 2023 as an Assistant Professor and member of the Cornea Service. After finishing medical school at McGovern Medical School in Houston, Dr. Matharu stayed in Houston for his residency at Baylor’s Cullen Eye Insitute. After residency, Dr. Matharu completed a cornea fellowship at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center before heading to Stanford University for a fellowship in Global Ophthalmology. We asked Dr. Matharu some questions about his vision for global eye care at Iowa.  

Interviewer: Tell me about your background in global eye care. 

Matharu: My background in global eye care, most specifically, is that I did a global ophthalmology fellowship this past year based out of Stanford, and the Himalayan cataract project which is a major nonprofit in the space of global eye care. 

Dr. Kanwal Matharu

Interviewer: Was that your first experience as a physician overseas? 

Matharu: Yes, that was my first direct patient care and first experience with in-depth research abroad. 

Interviewer: What made you apply for that global ophthalmology fellowship at Stanford? 

Matharu: I think having family living abroad, specifically in India, and having that exposure and parents who encouraged me to look beyond my borders and recognize my privilege here at home, instilled in me specific values and interests. In college I had a minor in global health and health policy, but, at that time, I wasn't able to have any global patient care experiences. In the long run it paid off because I was able to go abroad when I had more tangible skill sets, and I felt like I had much more to offer after having completed a residency and fellowship than I did as a naive undergrad. 

Interviewer: Is there a specific moment when you felt like you saw your career encompassing not just your own local practice but a much larger, global network? 

Matharu: Since I've been at Iowa I keep pinching myself because in a very neat and tidy way, all the different things I've been studying are coming to fruition and coming together in synergistic ways. I've had incredible mentors, both before I got here and here, who have helped show me how I can tie together these different threads. 

Dr. Kanwal Matharu

Interviewer: Based on your desire to participate in global eye care, why did you choose Iowa? 

Matharu: It's actually an addendum to the previous answer, which was, the more I learned about global health and health policy, from a theoretical perspective at first and then going abroad and seeing how Iowa fits perfectly with all the things I'd studied. Global eye care isn’t just about eyes, it is critically important to have good relations with the local politicians. It is critically important to engage in their community festivals because that is what builds these long-term partnerships. I couldn’t see myself focused on just direct patient care globally. Direct patient care could be the best way for someone else, but for me, I was looking for a more academically focused way to pursue global eye care. In academia, there are kind of three parts: direct patient care, research, and education. What I saw during my global ophthalmology fellowship was the global yearning for more education, and Iowa has been one of the best educational institutions—not only for ophthalmology, but also in terms of our eye banking and just the ethos here—it's second to none. 

Interviewer: In your short time here in Iowa, what are some things that have been coming onto your radar as far as ways to expand our global eye care? 

Matharu: During the past year, I have been incredibly amazed at how much global ophthalmology was already happening. I think we just haven't had a nice, codified expression of it, but people here have been working with Orbis (a nonprofit that works to build eye care systems that cover the full range of eye care services) for a long time. Building out that relationship and sharing our resources is low hanging fruit. With all of the resources we have here, like morning rounds, all these incredible surgical resources, the simulation lab and Stone Rounds (, all it took was to send a couple emails to people who I 'd previously met—program directors in Ghana, Tanzania, India, and Nepal. I shared the link to Stone Rounds and suddenly, we started seeing participation from new people in those locations. It's already what's been happening at Iowa, and there are already people here doing things that are innovative and could easily translate to ophthalmic education globally. Same thing with the Iowa Lions Eye Bank—our eye bank is world renowned for teaching on a one-to-one level. There are simple things happening regularly here that we can easily share—from surgical techniques, to research, to clinic management. 

Interviewer: What would you like global eye care to look like at Iowa in five, ten or twenty years? Do you have a vision for that far down the road?  

Matharu: Definitely! In five years, I'd like to have physicians from low- and middle-income countries routinely coming to Iowa to learn from our teams, not just the physicians but also the nurses and techs, etc. and for us to have built out a robust library of videos so that we can export all that information cleanly and efficiently.  

At ten years, it would be great if we had identified a partner institution or partner practice in a low- or middle-income nation with the goal being to raise the level of care in a region such that everyone else in the region—private practices, government, hospitals—also raise their volume and quality of care to build out a really robust relationship between that entire region and our institution.  

The twenty-year vision would be that we have figured out how to do all of this as an institution and we can share our best practices with other institutions that want to create their own global eye care program. I think we're on that path and it’s perfect timing because the American Academy of Ophthalmology is now really invested in global ophthalmology because so many young ophthalmologists are excited about it. Because of the prestige and experience and reputation of Iowa’s ophthalmology department, we were invited to participate in the Global Ophthalmology Consortium. So even though we are just starting to organize our own efforts, we are already participating at the national level.  

Interviewer: Any other thoughts you have on global eye care? 

Matharu: I think the one thing I'd really like to highlight is that global does not mean International. Global means looking everywhere and seeking to reduce health disparities no matter if they exist on another continent or just across town. I'm really proud to be part of the Iowa ophthalmology department because they've already been taking care of our local population with initiatives like Operation HawkEyeSight and being the safety net hospital for the whole state of Iowa. So I think that emphasis has always been a part of the ophthalmology department at Iowa and I'd like to continue to encourage that and figure out how we can teach others how we've been doing that. And I think that's a very important part of our global ophthalmology experience here. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2024