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Gifted surgeon gives up lucrative practice to give sight to others

Leaders the World Needs

is a regular feature of DePauw Magazine, which is published three times a year.

Kimberly Bass ’83 with patient
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Kimberly Bass ’83 was a successful ophthalmologic surgeon with a solid practice in St. Paul but, she says, “I still yearned for something more.”

She considered a few alternatives, talked them over with her family and, six years ago, quit her practice, opting to expand her volunteer activities and use her considerable skills to treat the vision problems of people in third-world countries.

“I liked the concept of volunteering,” she says, “and travel is a big part of our family. So giving back to somebody who doesn’t have anything and being able to travel and trying to be self-sufficient have all become very gratifying.”

Kimberly Bass ’83 at work
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Bass started volunteering in 2007 for two organizations – SEE International and Medical Ministry International – that sponsor medical missions. She has operated on 300 to 500 patients during 11 expeditions to five countries: St. Vincent and the Grenadines; Honduras; Bolivia; Peru; and Colombia. She plans to return to Colombia in January.

“A lot of patients simply need glasses. It’s amazing how a pair of glasses can change somebody’s life,” she says. She also sees “a lot of glaucoma, a lot of diabetic eye disease. Predominantly what I’m focused on – pun intended – is cataracts and cataract surgery.”

Bass says she misses her private practice “but it doesn’t compare to what I’m doing now. … It is exciting and rewarding to be involved with restoring a person’s eyesight and changing their lives and their family’s forever.”

Everybody should try something they’re not comfortable with … If everybody tried to do something like this, I think we’d have a better world.
Kimberly Bass ’83 helping a patient
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Bass came to DePauw with a plan to become a pediatrician. “Having the liberal arts exposure was great,” she says. “Taking some poetry classes and a mythology class, along with my pre-med requirements and psychology requirements too, was very satisfying.” She encourages young people to pursue their passions, whether they relate to their career plans or not, because “it will make you a more interesting and involved person. If you’re self-satisfied, it just comes out with whatever job you do.”  

When an accelerated program at Northwestern Medical School placed her on pediatric oncology and infectious disease floors at a Chicago children’s hospital, “I cried every day. I thought, I can’t do this for the rest of my life.” She dreaded her next rotation – surgery – but ended up loving it and, having always been fascinated with the eye, she ended up pursuing ophthalmology.

“Everybody should try something they’re not comfortable with … and when I say ‘try,’ I mean volunteer, exposing yourself and giving to others,” she says. “Whether that’s at the local level, for instance, the food shelf, homeless shelters or something on a much larger scale, as I’m doing, which is traveling internationally, doing surgery, it is so beneficial; it is so rewarding. … If everybody tried to do something like this, I think we’d have a better world.”

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