The “Vision Thing” According to a Veterinary Ophthalmologist

Dr. Noelle McNabb talks about her lifelong interest and how it makes for a rewarding career.

Dr. Noelle McNabb, a veterinary ophthalmologist at Angell Memorial Animal Hospital in Boston, has been interested in vision almost as far back as she can recall. She was in second grade when she learned that she needed corrective lenses. “I remember the day I first put on my new glasses,” she says. “I was stunned and forever changed about how valuable clear vision was. In fact, I slept with my glasses on the first year I had them because I didn’t want to wake up and not see everything.”

A Rewarding Career

Pardon the expression, but McNabb’s eyes were really opened around her second year in veterinary school. That’s when it dawned on her that her chosen field had specialties and she could actually make this “vision thing,” which had always intrigued her, part of her career. “As soon as I found out that this was something that existed,” she says, “I pursued it.”

The road from Michigan State University’s veterinary school led her to an internship at Angell, then a residency in comparative ophthalmology at the University of Florida’s veterinary school. She finally returned to Angell in 1997, this time as the staff ophthalmologist. It didn’t take owners and their pets – poor vision and all – very long to find their way to McNabb and begin filling her appointment book.

Intriguing Variety

These days, she cares for plenty of dogs and cats. Never mind eye charts: In dogs, the problems are often dry-eye syndrome, corneal ulcers and cataracts, to name just a few. With cats, conjunctivitis, uveitis and different eye inflammations are common villains.

McNabb also sees many unusual creatures, from iguanas to bobcats to alligators, whether they belong to individuals or institutions, like a local zoo or museum. From time to time, she heads out to inspect the peepers of harbor seals at the aquarium or primates at the zoo. And because she loves horses, her days off often find her at a local equine facility, managing a few of their cases.

McNabb spends her Thursdays behind a surgical mask, taking care of cataracts and the like. But on any given day, animals that have been hit by cars or who’ve suffered from other trauma will have her back in the operating room, repairing displaced eyes or removing foreign objects.

Accepting the Challenge

It’s all part of the job, which McNabb compares to that of a pediatric ophthalmologist: Mom and dad notice a problem, but junior can’t contribute much to the discussion. That’s when the client’s at-home observations, as well as high-powered magnification equipment and special light sources, come into play. It’s all part and parcel of solving the riddle. What’s behind the swelling? Or the discharge? Or the discoloration? Sometimes it’s obvious; other times, it’s a mystery. McNabb likes it either way. “I feel challenged by it, actually,” she says.