In the rarest of events, David T. Tse, professor of ophthalmology and the Dr. Nasser Ibrahim Al-Rashid Chair in Ophthalmic Plastic, Orbital Surgery, and Oncology at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, was awarded his Bachelor’s degree from the University of Miami—nearly 40 years after launching his medical career.
Tse, an internationally acclaimed oculofacial plastic and reconstructive surgeon, attended the University of Miami in 1969 as an undergraduate, and after only two years, was accepted to medical school. While Tse received his medical degree in 1976, he never received his undergraduate degree, a detail he casually mentioned to UM President Donna E. Shalala during a celebratory dinner for the recipients of commencement honorary degrees.
“President Shalala asked me where I went to school, and I told her UM, but I didn’t get the undergraduate degree because I got accepted to medical school after two years,” Tse explained.
That was the extent of it, Tse thought, but not for Shalala. When she discovered Tse was just 12 credits short of earning the degree—a deficit easily fulfilled by credits from his first year of medical school—Shalala enlisted the help of Pascal J. Goldschmidt, senior vice president for medical affairs, dean of the Miller School of Medicine, and CEO of UHealth, and Eduardo C. Alfonso, professor of ophthalmology and chair of Bascom Palmer, to orchestrate a memorable moment for Tse, his family, and his colleagues.
With the diploma in hand, Shalala and Goldschmidt made a surprise visit to the Jose Berrocal Auditorium, where they knew they’d find Tse at the July 11 Bascom Palmer/Ophthalmology Grand Rounds. And among more than 120 faculty, staff, and members of Tse’s family, he finally received the bachelor of science degree he earned 40 years earlier.
“I was thunderstruck and totally surprised,” Tse said, adding that the collective gesture was an “undeniably good first impression of the Bascom Palmer culture for the new residents and fellows.”
Tse, who excels in lacrimal, eyelid and orbital reconstructive, aesthetic and rejuvenation surgery, orbital oncology, thyroid-related eye conditions, optic nerve disorders, and developmental defects in children, joined the Miller School faculty in 1986 to start an ophthalmic plastic and reconstructive surgery program at Bascom Palmer.
Tse’s track record of translating research discoveries into innovative clinical solutions, especially for orbital cancers and children born without an eye, has led to significant advancements in the field. In particular, he improved the ten-year survival rate of adenoid cystic carcinoma, an aggressive form of cancer in the tear-producing lacrimal gland, from about 20 percent to 85 percent by developing a treatment protocol that shrinks the tumor with a high and targeted dose of chemotherapy before surgical removal.
He also developed a cost-effective and aesthetically superior alternative to the conventional treatments for children born without an eye who must endure multiple surgeries to insert ever-larger solid implants to expand their orbital bone structure in an attempt to minimize facial disfigurement as they grow. Collaborating with a medical device manufacturer, Tse developed an inflatable tissue expander that is anchored to the socket bone in one procedure and, like a balloon, inflated with increasing volumes of fluid to gradually stimulate bone growth and eliminate the need for repeated surgeries.
Author of the definitive oculoplastic surgery atlas Color Atlas of Ophthalmic Surgery: Oculoplastic Surgery, Tse has written more than 100 peer-reviewed articles, 58 book chapters, and holds three patents for his medical and surgical inventions.
Tse’s endowed chair is named for the Saudi Arabian preeminent builder and leading philanthropist who last year donated $10 million to Bascom Palmer to establish an interdisciplinary research center dedicated to eradicating blinding injuries and lethal orbital malignancies. Nasser Ibrahim Al-Rashid’s gift, which is part of UM’s Momentum2 campaign, will establish the Dr. Nasser Ibrahim Al-Rashid Orbital Vision Research Center in the Miller School’s Evelyn F. and William L. McKnight Vision Research Center. The center, which will be led by Tse, will assemble a broad range of research scientists and clinicians who are focused on finding novel therapies for orbital diseases with significant morbidity and mortality, orbital cancers and traumatic optic nerve injury, and clinical applications for stem cell and biomedical studies.
A member of the Iron Arrow Society, the highest honor awarded at the University of Miami, the NIH principal investigator has been recognized by the American Academy of Ophthalmology with the Senior Honor and El-Maghraby International Awards and received the Distinguished Alumnus Award from the Miller School and the University of Southern California’s Doheny Eye Institute, where he completed his residency.
Tse also has served as a director of the American Board of Ophthalmology and is a member of the Editorial Board for the American Journal of Ophthalmology, Ophthalmic Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Journal, and the Asia-Pacific Journal of Ophthalmology. Revered by his patients and oculoplastic peers alike, it is no surprise that he is regularly selected for the “Best Doctors in America” honor and named one of “America’s Top Doctors.”
Though Tse says he never considered the absent degree important, he now holds it—and how it was delivered—in high regard.
“Thanks again for bestowing me this incredible honor and for creating an unforgettable moment for me and my family,” Tse wrote in an email to Shalala. “I will always treasure the significance of this retroactive undergraduate diploma.”