Snapshot Interview: Michael Ciszek, OD, FVI

By Abigail Gonsalves, OD

Get inspired and learn a little bit more about your fellow VOSH-Illinois volunteers.

This month we are talking to Dr. Michael Ciszek

Dr. Ciszek graduated cum laude from Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois, as a triple major in biology, pre-med, and Spanish. Combining his interests, he spent several months studying in Arequipa, Peru at the Universidad Catolica de Santa Maria.  Later, he went on to the Illinois College of Optometry where he again graduated cum laude and did his graduate thesis on HIV and contact lens wear. Areas of specialty include specialty contact lenses, ocular surface disease, and providing care to LGBTQ patients in need. His local philanthropy is highlighted by his work with Howard Brown Health Center, an organization with a mission to promote health and wellness to underserved LGBTQ patients in Chicago. He is part of a dedicated group of doctors who provide consultation services to the contact lens industry, bringing new technologies to the marketplace. He has also been published in Optometric Management Magazine.

Dr. Ciszek’s experience with VOSH began In 2011 on a trip to Barranquilla, Colombia. Immediately moved by the experience and the direct impact on the community, he has now been on a multitude of trips, including Peru, Bolivia, Guatemala, and Mexico and is involved in domestic efforts to provide quality eye care to those in need in the USA. He is currently Vice President of VOSH/International and will be elevated to President in October 2021.

“What are you waiting for? 

The rewards  far outweigh the effort.”

What motivated you to initially become involved in VOSH-IL? (VOSH/INT?)

Dr. Sandy Bury. While we were on a flight together returning to Chicago from a conference she was telling me many wonderful stories about her clinic trips.  When I mentioned that I was in SVOSH at ICO and had always meant to get involved with VOSH again, her immediate response was, there is no time like the present.  I signed up for the very next VOSH IL trip to Colombia lead by Natalie Venezia and I was hooked.

How long have you been active in VOSH and what has motivated you to stay involved all these years?

My first trip was to Barranquilla, Colombia, September 2011.  It was an amazing group of ODs and UMSL students and volunteers.  Getting to know new people and experiencing their gratitude for something so simple as an eye exam and a pair of glasses is a true gift.  The world seems a better place after having the opportunity to get to know the amazing VOSH volunteers and the incredible people we serve.   My husband has joined me for all of the 8 clinic trips I have attended; it is a great way to stay connected as a couple by volunteering together.  Volunteering for VOSH clinics in Latin America allows me to combine two of my great passions; optometry and Spanish.

What have been your greatest accomplishments in VOSH -IL/INT or as an optometrist (or volunteer) in general?

Serving a community with other amazing volunteers while learning along with other ODs and OD students, both local and US volunteers and together treating some complex and some simple patient problems is the best accomplishment.  I have had the opportunity to interact with students from around the US as part of the SVOSH Outreach Committee and their enthusiasm and ideas have led to tremendous collaboration between the SVOSH members and VOSH IL and VOSH/International.

What have you learned from being involved in VOSH-IL/INT?

I have learned how to do a thorough, respectful exam with limited equipment and supplies which allows me to be more flexible and provide services to a larger community in my own office.  I have learned that no matter where you go, people are amazing caring individuals and communities and that a little bit of commitment and a bit of hard work gives rewards far beyond what I have put in.

Tell us a bit about your clinic(s)? What are the biggest challenges and rewards of participating in VOSH clinics?

I have participated in 7 international clinics (Colombia, Peru, Bolivia twice, Guatemala and Mexico twice) and I organized a clinic in Chicago for LGBTQ+ patients.  Navigating customs and laws of both the US and the countries we are visiting can be daunting.  The rewards far outweigh any of the challenges.

What have been the biggest changes in VOSH -IL since you first became involved?

There is much more collaboration and communication between the VOSH chapters, SVOSH chapters and VOSH/International now.

Where /What do you see VOSH-IL/INT accomplishments/ goals in the next 5 years?

In order to participate to our fullest potential in the worldwide goal of eliminating preventable blindness, our chapters and members have to focus on data collection and reporting.  We need to be able to document the amazing work we do. This will better allow us to collaborate with other organizations and put us in a better position to fundraise for the important work we do.

What do you see as VOSH-IL/INT’s biggest challenges in the next 5 years and how to address them?

We will continue to build upon our core work of humanitarian clinics while we support the development of optometry around the world.

What advice would you give to student ODs who are interested in being involved with VOSH -IL?

As Dr. Sandy Bury said to me, what are you waiting for?  The rewards far outweigh the effort.  In addition to clinics, there are both short term and long term teaching opportunities.

Are your spouse/children involved in VOSH -IL/INT?

I am so grateful and thankful that my husband has joined me on every VOSH clinic trip I have participated in.  His support also allows me to devote time to being a member of the executive committee of VOSH/International.

Do you work? Retired? What else do you do other than VOSH-related activities? What do you do in your spare time? What do you do for fun?

I am a partner in a two practice optometry office in Chicago.  In addition to serving our amazing patients, we provide care to patients of Howard Brown Health.  I continue to study Spanish, enjoy gardening both at home and in the West Andersonville Neighborhood Together gardens, bowl on our office league and will eventually get back to exercising.

How have you been volunteering during COVID? 

We just resumed providing care to Howard Brown Health patients.

Do you have any heroes? Why?

I admire all of the VOSH volunteers who give of their time.