December 18, 2017

Shannon McCole, MD

Department of Ophthalmology, Eastern Virginia Medical School

After her 1994 graduation from Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, Dr. Shannon McCole served her ophthalmology residency at EVMS.  “I was impressed by the level of excellence of the faculty and the warmth of the reception I got as a member of the ophthalmic community,” she says, “and I knew I’d get a lot of experience at a Level One trauma center.”

She liked the area so much that she decided to stay in Hampton Roads to join a private practice.  She was so dedicated to the program at EVMS that even while beginning her practice, she volunteered as a community faculty member.  She did that for five years, she says, adding, “I graduated from the program.  There were some aspects of the education program that we knew needed tweaking, and I felt that as a recent graduate, I was in a unique position to try to make the changes that needed to be made to fulfill the ever-increasing accreditation stipulations and regulations.”

After five years as community faculty, Dr. McCole came on as an associate program director – again as a volunteer.  “I enjoyed working with the residents – it’s fun to teach these bright, young, energetic kids who are hungry for knowledge in ophthalmology,” she says.  “It’s a really rewarding experience to do that.”

Assuming additional responsibilities as an unpaid volunteer was nothing new to Shannon McCole.  She’s gone as far as Peru and as near as Wise County, VA, on medical missions to provide basic eye care and glasses to people who have neither the access nor the resources to get them.   “People were in such desperate need for ophthalmologic services that they were camping out two or three nights to get a spot in line for the clinic,” she says.

Dr. McCole was ultimately asked to join the EVMS faculty full time as the Program Director for the ophthalmology training program, ending her volunteer status, but not her work on behalf of the poor and indigent.  “I’ve been trying to get my residents to get involved in RAM”, she says, referring to the Remote Area Medical team established in 1985 by Stan Brock as a way to deliver basic medical aid to people in the country’s inaccessible regions.  “EVMS does participate in RAM.  My residents have gone in the past, and hopefully they’ll go again next year as well.”

She’d like to strengthen her department’s volunteer efforts to do more international work but acknowledges the difficulty with a small program.  “We have so many patients in need to see here in the clinics,” she explains, “and it’s tough to pull faculty members and residents out to go on these longer missions. So we focus on doing things locally, like partnering with area Lions Clubs and working in the HOPES Clinic.”

Today, the former volunteer leads a very unusual department of ophthalmology, in that it is composed entirely of volunteer faculty members.  “It’s very rewarding now, as the Program Director and Chairman of the department, to bring all these ophthalmologists in the community together for a common cause, which is the educational mission of EVMS – and to provide eye care to those who would otherwise be left out.”

She adds, “At the EVMS Sentara Lions Sight Center, we are the largest provider of eye care for indigent patients in Eastern Virginia.”  Her team performs countless eye surgeries for underserved patients throughout Hampton Roads.  In addition, she personally performs cataract surgeries as charity procedures through the Lions Club.

She describes her inspiration: “Preserving or restoring a person’s ability to see is doing good for all of us, not just the individual.  When people have a disability because of their vision that could be prevented or treated, we’ve got to intervene and do something to help them.  We have a duty to serve them, which in turn helps us, both as a nation and globally, to keep people functioning so that they can continue to be contributing members of society.”

If you know physicians who are performing good deeds – great or small – who you would like to see highlighted in this publication, please submit information on our website – or email