2021 Top Doctor: Derek Kunimoto, M.D.

Editorial StaffMay 5, 2021
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Photography by Steve Craft
Photography by Steve Craft

Vitreoretinal Surgery

Med School/Year Graduated: Harvard Medical School/1999

Years in Practice: 16

What makes a vitreoretinal surgeon distinct from a rank-and-file ophthalmologist?

As vitreoretinal surgeons, we are subspecialized in the medical and surgical treatment of retinal diseases such as age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and retinal detachment.

Ouch! Eyeball surgery is something most of us hope we never have. Are most of your patients older?

Agreed, people often cringe most at the thought of something bad happening to their eyes or vision. Most retinal disease is age-related, so our waiting rooms are generally filled with the elderly. I enjoy treating this age group, because patients always have lots of wisdom and anecdotes to share, which makes [the] clinic more enjoyable.

What new treatments, drugs, procedures or devices have been introduced in the vitreoretinal sphere recently?

At Retinal Consultants of AZ, we’ve built the largest clinical trial center for retinal disease in the Southwest. Currently, the research assets which will have the potential to impact clinical care most are those in the treatment of macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and retinal vascular occlusion, which is when a blood clot blocks a vein.

You’re a Harvard graduate, a Fulbright scholar and a Rhodes scholar, among countless other awards and honors. How have you applied that level of ambition and achievement to your practice?

I’ve never been one to rest on past laurels, and I view every day as one that I have to put my head down, work hard and bring my A-game in the care of my patients.

International travel is near and dear to your heart, isn’t it?

I took a circuitous route to my medical education and spent many years after college in different countries, studying law, doing research and living abroad. This, along with international travel, has taught me that people, no matter where they are from, are more similar than different.

Any post-pandemic vacation plans?

Lubna, my wife, and I would like to share this with our children, so as soon as it’s safe, we will resume our travels.

Your bio says you enjoy barbecuing. What are your signature dishes?

My signature dishes are ribs and a 10-hour brisket. I spent many years tweaking cooking protocols, but this is one activity where trial and error is a lot of fun.

What is the best depiction of your field you’ve seen in TV or film?

Retina surgeons and ophthalmologists don’t seem to have won over Hollywood scriptwriters, but I did enjoy the scene in a Tom Clancy movie [Patriot Games] where Jack Ryan’s wife, Dr. Cathy Ryan, scrubs out of a successful ophthalmic surgery.

“If I wasn’t a doctor, I’d be…”

A professional traveler, to new and exciting places, with my family.

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