Westmont Magazine Ophthalmologist Gains a Vision for Serving Others
Dr. Kyle Godfrey ’08, a highly trained surgeon and assistant professor of ophthalmology at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City, set aside his specialty and volunteered to treat COVID-19 patients early in the pandemic. As a volunteer attending physician in the emergency department, he cared for acutely ill COVID-19 patients with his colleagues in emergency medicine.
“We wondered if we had the resources to care for all the sick people,” Kyle says. “Everything happened so quickly. We shut down operating rooms and repurposed others to increase our intensive care capacity. The crisis required everyone to perform at the top of their training and contribute as much as they could. We headed into the unknown together, and the institution and the team inspired solidarity and a sense of purpose.”
Like many New York City healthcare workers, Kyle appreciated the applause, food, notes and even messages on the sidewalk from grateful people. Medicine became a team sport as the Weill Cornell faculty and staff mobilized and coordinated their response to the pandemic. For several months,
he volunteered in the emergency department and did only emergency eye surgery. When the number of COVID-19 cases began to decline, he served on the hospital reopening committee for surgical procedures, developing safety protocols and planning for a gradual return to seeing patients and resuming elective surgeries.
“I love the sense of community here in New York,” he says. “It’s been remarkable to see how well we’ve done because our city came together and took our commitment to each other seriously.”
A board-certified ophthalmologist, Kyle carefully repairs delicate tissues around the eyes to restore function, heal injuries and trauma or remove tumors. He specializes in oculofacial plastic, reconstructive, and orbital surgery, treating both cosmetic and functional conditions of the eyelids, eyebrows, mid-face, orbit (eye socket), and lacrimal (tear drainage) system. His work often involves collaboration with neurosurgeons, head and neck surgeons, interventional radiologists and dermatologists. “It’s an interdisciplinary field,” he says. “The liberal arts teach you to see the
big picture and cross-disciplinary perspectives.”
Coach Chris Elwood recruited Kyle to play tennis at Westmont. “I liked the idea of studying in a small community and benefitting from the broad exposure of the liberal arts,” he says. A pre-med student, he earned a Bachelor of Science in chemistry with Major Honors. Mentored by Professor Stephen Contakes, he focused on a novel pharmaceutical synthesis technique. “I had a fantastic experience doing research with my professors,” he says. “It’s such a strong department—the chemistry faculty work closely with students to conduct innovative and important research.”
An optics class with Ken Kihlstrom and Kyle’s work as a technician for an ophthalmologist in Santa Barbara inspired his interest in the eye. “The importance of vision, the precision of eye surgery and the ability to do international work and develop specialized skills that improve people’s quality of life all led me to pursue ophthalmology,” he says.
“I’m so grateful for my experiences at Westmont,” he says. “My professors, mentors and a talented community of learners gave me a solid academic foundation. The rigorous chemistry program and the broad liberal arts curriculum prepared me well for medical school and my career.”
Kyle graduated from Georgetown Medical School, where he received the Ophthalmology Achievement Award for clinical, academic and research excellence. During his residency, he earned the UC San Diego School of Medicine Ophthalmology Teaching Award three times and was selected as chief resident at the UC San Diego Shiley Eye Institute.
In addition to his surgical and scholarly work, Kyle serves as associate director of the residency program at Weill Cornell and teaches medical students, residents and fellows. “After caring for patients, teaching is the most rewarding aspect of my job,” he says. The author of more than 40 peer-reviewed scientific articles and book chapters, Kyle regularly lectures and presents research throughout the world. He serves as an ad hoc scientific reviewer for the top specialty journals in his field.
He and his fiancée, a senior litigator with a large corporate law firm, plan to hold a small family wedding in the coming months when their families can all travel safely. He still plays tennis and enjoys running. He even finished a New York City marathon. “New York is a running city,” he says. “There is so much to see.”
In the past year, Kyle has deepened his appreciation for gratitude and service, encouraged by the various ways people have helped each other. “It’s a privilege to care for New Yorkers and patients from around the world,” he says. “I became a doctor to help people, and an ophthalmologist to help protect and restore vision. I’m grateful for the many opportunities to serve.”