Q&A with English Alum Dr. Quinn Wang, Co-Founder & CEO of Quadrant Eye

Photo of Dr. Quinn Wang

Dr. Quinn Wang will be the guest speaker at Duke’s Fall 2022 Medicine, Humanities and Business Celebration on November 5, 2022.  Dr. Quinn Wang graduated from Duke in 2010 with high distinction and received the English department's award for "Most Original Honors Thesis” for her thesis Through the Lens of Medicine: Landscapes of Violence in Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian (1985), All the Pretty Horses (1992), and No Country for Old Men (2005). Following her undergraduate studies, Dr.  Wang received a degree in medicine from Duke University School of Medicine and completed a residency in Ophthalmology at the University of California at San Francisco.  She is the CEO of Quadrant Eye (QE), founded with UC Berkeley graduate Kristine Yoshihara. QE, a digital health startup, has a mission to improve eyecare access and services.

Current English minor Sibani Ram had the pleasure of working with Dr. Wang. Ram spoke about this opportunity:

"Meeting and working with Dr. Quinn Wang has shown me the value of authenticity.On the one hand, she has forged a compassion-driven career in entrepreneurship through the worlds of medicine and storytelling — staying sincere to the interests that carved her love for healthcare in the first place. But what I admire most about her is her willingness to take a chance on the idea of at-home eye exams (after a dozen years of medical training!), knowing hers would be an imperfect solution but believing it could be an incredibly impactful one, nevertheless. Dr. Wang is a shining example of someone who doesn't feel the need to fully sacrifice her passions in the name of practicality (and vice versa). She truly is unafraid to be unconventional."

Dr. Wang shared some insight into her time studying English at Duke University and the role it has played in her professional development: 

How has your English degree from Duke shaped your professional life? 

"My years at Duke were crucial to my professional success. As an English major, I was exposed to a range of poetry and prose that fed my curiosity and creativity. I learned how to write, think critically, and break down abstract concepts. All these skills served me well in medical school (also Duke!) and ophthalmology residency. They also helped me spot unusual opportunities that expanded my professional network beyond the medical sphere. Today, I am an ophthalmologist and the co-founder/CEO of Quadrant Eye (QE,) a venture-backed eyecare startup. QE's mission is to create new remote eye care solutions to help close the eyecare access gap.

For context, I started QE after handling one too many cases of preventable blindness; I've also watched my grandmother, who lives in China, go blind from poor eye care access. In the company's earliest days, when I was knee-deep in slide decks and investor memos, I constantly thanked my lucky stars for the writing and storytelling skills I honed at Duke. Without these, I doubt I could've raised significant capital and dived into the hectic life of a startup CEO. (Spoiler alert: there's a ton of reading and writing involved!)"

What advice would you give a student interested in pursuing an English major or minor and then a career in a healthcare field?  

"A healthcare career is rooted in respect for other people's humanity. When you're meeting people at their most vulnerable, it's vital to make them feel seen and understood. But how do you do that, especially if you've never cared for a patient before? My advice is to learn about how other people experience the world. I may be biased, but one of the best ways to do this is to pursue an English degree. You'll get immersed in different modes of thinking, communicating, and storytelling. You'll explore how all of this makes you feel. You'll kickstart the long journey toward cultural competence, one of healthcare's pillars."

English Major Catherine Johnson, '22, asked, "How did you transition from the humanities to the medical field?"

"It was a bit of a circular path. Growing up, I'd always assumed I'd become a doctor like my dad. But as I got older, I became less and less certain that medicine was for me. When I got to Duke, I turned to the humanities to help me figure out what I wanted to do with my life.

Being an English major opened my world and introduced me to some game-changing works of art (e.g., "A Long and Happy Life" by Reynolds Price) that I still reference today. Having all that protected time to read and dissect literature allowed me to understand myself better. My humanities degree helped me realize how deeply I cared about participating in and shaping other people's stories – ultimately, it paved my way back to medicine."

What role does writing have in your life now? 

"Writing helps me pay attention. It forces me to slow down and organize my thoughts. It also helps me cultivate a rich inner life that allows me to communicate authentically with myself and the people around me."

Updated MHB Event Flyer featuring Dr. Quinn Wang

The Medicine, Humanities, and Business Celebration will be held on Saturday, November 5, 2022, from 6:00 pm-8:00 pm in the Schiciano Auditorium. Register here to attend. Refreshments will be provided. Duke English's George P. Lucaci Fund and the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute are major sponsors of this event.