Board-Certified Ophthalmologist, Retina Surgeon
“Vision is independence. It impacts work, family, travel, life! It’s my privilege to help patients keep or even get that sense back.”
Since finishing her medical degree and residency, Sarina Amin, M.D, pursued her fellowship in Phoenix and Los Angeles and traveled around the world (Istanbul, Saigon, Bangkok, Montreal), but the Orlando native has now come home to join the distinguished staff of board-certified Ophthalmologists at Central Florida’s Magruder Eye Institute. It’s been one of those full-circle journeys for Dr. Sarina Amin on the path to find her passion for her Ophthalmology specialty as a Retina Specialist.
Growing up in a medical family, the daughter of two pharmacists, Dr. Amin loved science throughout her public-school years. She was accepted into medical school right out of high school as part of an accelerated secondary school program with the University of South Florida (USF). She left for Tampa after graduation and completed her bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Sciences (summa cum laude) at USF in three years.
“I loved all the undergraduate coursework – including organic chemistry, biology, and biochemistry – that prepared me for medical school,” Dr. Amin explains. But in my third year, I decided to widen my search and apply to other universities. I was offered a full scholarship for the inaugural class at the College of Medicine at the University of Central Florida (UCF) in Orlando. Since my last name starts with A, I was the first graduate to be awarded the Doctor of Medicine degree in the first class of graduating physicians in that college.”
Dr. Amin then spent four years at the University of Florida in Gainesville, first for her Internship in Internal Medicine, followed by her Ophthalmology Residency, where, as Chief Resident, she also taught medical students and co-residents. Dr. Amin feels very fortunate to have gained a “best-of-both-worlds” experience during her Surgical Vitreoretinal Fellowship, the first half spent at a private practice in Phoenix and the second at an academic practice at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. “It was perfect for me to experience both private practice and the academic environments,” she states.
Her true ‘calling’ for medicine and caretaking, however, occurred while she was still in high school when both her grandparents became ill. “We already spent a lot of time with them. They picked my brother and me up and took care of us after school to help our parents out.” But once they had a diagnosis, and because of the aggressive nature of her grandmother’s illness, the roles were quickly reversed as the fifteen-year-old became one of their caretakers in those after-school hours.
Since she was a volunteer at local hospitals and had been around the medical field all her life, she found caretaking tasks were familiar and comfortable. For Dr. Amin, those six months with her grandmother were bittersweet. “We had looked forward to my getting my driver’s license so I could drive her around to go on adventures together; but instead, as it turned out, I had the opportunity to help care for someone who had always taken care of me.”
“Going through that entire experience with my grandmother definitely influenced my career decision,” she explains. “I admired the team of doctors who worked with my grandmother to make the best decisions possible with a host of complicated issues. It was more like we had a family of physicians with us. Both of my grandparents died while I was high school, but in every sense, that hard personal experience confirmed for me medicine was what I wanted to do with my life.”
In medical school, she looked for her specialty, researching both pediatric cardiothoracic surgery and radiation oncology – neither of which completely resonated with her. However, a two-week shadowing of retina surgeon Dr. Saad Shaikh, who had lectured in one of her courses in Ophthalmology, shed light on which path to follow. During rounds with him at the VA hospital, she saw the opportunity that Ophthalmology, in particular retinal care, presented to develop close relationships with patients. “You see some of the patients on a more frequent basis than even a general practitioner would, sometimes every three months. It was exactly what I was looking for as far as a patient/doctor relationship,” she explains.
“The retina specialty is a great mix of clinical work with the operating room,” Dr. Amin adds. She was exposed to the advanced surgical technology of retinal disease management early in her career, as Dr. Shaikh let her scrub in on surgeries with him to observe. Today, she is doing many of the procedures she witnessed as a medical student. She also participated with him in research through Orbis – Cybersight International, a telemedicine platform in which mentors, such as Dr. Shaikh, support eye care teams globally. “Cases from all over the world are posted into this portal so reviewing them truly gave me an international perspective on retinal issues and care.”
She also credits her Surgical Vitreoretinal Fellowship for giving her a broad-based perspective on retinal care. Dr. Amin worked with ten different attending physicians in Phoenix and eight in Los Angeles. “I got eighteen different perspectives from surgeons that trained at different retina centers. It gave me first-hand exposure to a breadth of experience I wouldn’t have otherwise had access to,” she continues. “I was able to work with some very prominent thought leaders in our field.”
As far as the future in retina care, Dr. Amin is excited about potential new developments in gene therapy, and she is thrilled to be part of a practice with the commitment to the most advanced technology in eye care in the area. From her first meeting with Magruder Eye Institute, she felt she was coming home professionally, as much as she was coming back to her hometown and her family, who still live in Orlando.
“Their multi-disciplinary approach benefits the team of doctors and our patients in the caliber and continuity of care. Their philosophy dovetailed with mine and we all just hit it off.” Another draw was that her long-time friend from high school, Dr. Gopita Patel, is an Optometrist for Magruder Eye Institute. “We were very close and often confused for one another in school, and now … she is my colleague,” she laughs.
Dr. Amin will see patients at all four Magruder Eye Institute locations, including the newest EyeCare Optical location in Lake Nona. “All our locations mean we can serve an even greater number of Central Floridians, plus it is so convenient for our patients. I can go to my patient in Kissimmee, for example, rather than the patient having to drive a long way to get to me.” Since Magruder Eye Institute has an affiliation with the University of Central Florida, Dr. Amin hopes, long term, to bring in medical students to shadow her so that she can mentor them, just as she was, and encourage them to join her and her colleagues in the field of Ophthalmology.
When not in surgery, Dr. Amin finds childhood passions are still favorite pastimes. Along with her love for the sciences, Dr. Amin played classical piano and trained in ballet, jazz, and modern dance, as well as classical Indian dance and ballroom dancing. She keeps fit doing dance-based workout and still loves to play the piano. Being home in Central Florida again is a big plus for being close to her whole family. Along with playing with her rescue Beagle-hound mix, she especially loves taking her niece and nephew on Disney park and beach excursions.
Dr. Sarina Amin is available by appointment at (407) 893-8200.