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UMKC Alumni Spotlight Award

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Nelson Sabates is a vision-care leader

As professor and chairman of the University of Missouri-Kansas City Department of Ophthalmology, founding director of the Vision Research Center at UMKC, president and CEO of Sabates Eye Centers, president of the Vision Research Foundation of Kansas City, and community philanthropist and volunteer for numerous regional endeavors, Nelson Sabates (M.D., ’86) is indeed a man of many hats.  Yet his roles culminate in a single mission: to improve the lives of those afflicted with debilitating eye disease.

In his role at Sabates Eye Centers (SEC), Sabates upholds the company’s long-standing mission to serve greater Kansas City.  SEC’s physicians serve as faculty members of the Department of Ophthalmology in the UMKC School of Medicine, in addition to providing excellent care to their private-practice patients.  Under Sabates’ tenure, the department has served many underserved patients in Kansas City, in partnership with Truman Medical Centers.

Moreover, they have trained dozens of physicians who will serve as the next generation of eye care specialists. Sabates has dedicated the past 20 years of his career to teaching residents and students in the department. He sees it as a commitment to pay forward the training he received during his education at the UMKC School of Medicine, and subsequent training he received through his residency at the Dean McGee Eye Institute in Oklahoma City, his subspecialty training at Harvard Medical School and a post-doctoral research fellowship at the Schepens Eye Research Institute in Boston.

As a physician, Sabates has seen significant changes in the practice of ophthalmology that have made his vocation increasingly rewarding.

“On the clinical side, over the past two decades alone, we have seen a dramatic improvement in our ability to take care of people,” Sabates stated. “It is gratifying to be able to take care of patients with surgical treatments and medications that were not available 20 years ago, saving people’s vision that we couldn’t save then.  I am proud to say the department has been a leader in clinical research for several decades, helping pioneer many of the mainstream, sight-saving treatments being used in ophthalmologists’ offices world-wide today, including for age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, cataracts and more.”

When Sabates became chairman of the department in 2007, he, along with the Vision Research Foundation Board of Directors over which he presides, started the Vision Research Center at UMKC, creating the only regional institution combining basic and translational research with clinical trials in a concerted effort to target eye disease.  While many private practice physicians are interested in hosting and being paid to conduct pharmaceutical company-based clinical trials to test the next new drug to go to market, few invest personal expense and time to search for better treatments for their patients.  Enter Sabates whose colleagues and friends describe as a steadfast physician, unsettled by the status quo in medicine, whose sense of integrity and compassion for his patients has led him to pursue answers on their behalf. Toward that end, he built a sophisticated team of scientists, physicians and others to explore the causes of eye disease, and develop prevention strategies and better treatments.

Each year, the UMKC Alumni Association presents alumni awards to one honoree from each school and five campus-wide awards at its annual awards luncheon. Sabates is receiving UMKC’s Spotlight Award. This year’s event, which will highlight the 80th anniversary of the campus, will be held on Thursday, April 18, on the UMKC campus. For information and tickets for the event, click here.

Born in Columbia, MO and raised in the Kansas City area, Sabates now has an international presence as a leader in the medical community, and is a board member, speaker and author. He credits a lot of his success to his education at UMKC.

“What is really incredible about the six-year medical program is the exposure it provides students to patients, almost right from the beginning.  It better prepares students for their future work as physicians,” Sabates said. “My mentor there, Dr. Richardson Noback, as the founding dean of the medical school and my docent my entire four years really helped me become the doctor I am today. I often tell people, I have three role models in my life – my mother, my father and Dr. Noback. They are the people who molded me into who I am.”



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