Remembering Dr. Alice McPherson

Special thanks to the McPherson Eye Research Institute for contributing to this article.

With great sadness, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences mourns the passing of notable alumna, retina specialist, and vision research advocate Alice McPherson, MD on January 16th, 2023.

Dr. Alice McPherson
Alice McPherson, MD

McPherson was an accomplished physician, teacher, scholar, leader, and pioneer dedicated to the study and treatment of retinal diseases. As the founder of two internationally acclaimed research institutions – the Retina Research Foundation (RRF) in Houston, Texas, and the McPherson Eye Research Institute at UW-Madison – she had an enormous influence on vision research worldwide.


McPherson received her baccalaureate and medical degrees, and completed her ophthalmology training residency at UW-Madison.  She was the first woman to graduate from the department’s residency program in 1958.

She completed a retina fellowship at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary. A professor of ophthalmology at Baylor College of Medicine for many years, McPherson specialized in macular degeneration and vitreoretinal diseases and surgery. She was also a Fellow of both the American College of Surgeons and the International College of Surgeons.

“Dr. McPherson was not only a dedicated alumna of our training program, but a true pioneer in the field of ophthalmology,” said Terri Young, MD, MBA, chair of the UW-Madison Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences. “As the first full-time female vitreoretinal specialist in the world, she inspired and mentored many women who have since followed in her footsteps.  She was a giant and visionary in ophthalmology and retinal research.”

Terri Young, MD, MBA with Alice McPherson, MD in 2015
Terri Young, MD, MBA with McPherson at the McPherson ERI Annual Dinner in Fall 2015

McPherson’s scientific contributions to ophthalmology began with pioneering scleral buckling procedures for retinal detachments, as well as retinal ablation procedures of cryotherapy and laser photocoagulation in the treatment of retinal diseases. She was an early and vigorous advocate of photocoagulation in the treatment of diabetic retinopathy. This was initially a controversial position, later proven correct by a large, randomized prospective National Eye Institute Diabetic Retinopathy Study.

In 1969, Dr. McPherson founded the RRF, one of the nation’s leading eye research organizations, dedicated to promoting understanding, prevention and treatment of retinal diseases.

A dedicated physician, McPherson continued to consult with patients into her mid-90s.

Dr. Alice McPherson in surgery, 1970's
Dr. McPherson in surgery in the 1970s.


Dr. Alice McPherson conducting a patient exam in 1989.
Dr. McPherson conducting a patient exam, 1989.

In 2014, McPherson received the Gonin Medal, the oldest and most prestigious medal in ophthalmology, awarded by the University of Lausanne and the Societe Suisse d’Ophtalmologie.

Dr. McPherson’s extraordinary dedication and leadership benefited many institutions and professional organizations. She received distinguished honors from numerous universities and medical scientific organizations, including the University of Wisconsin, Harvard Medical School, the American Academy of Ophthalmology, and the European Society of Ophthalmology. She served as President of the Retina Society, the Pan American Association of Ophthalmology, and as Founding President of the University of Wisconsin Ophthalmology Alumni Association. In 2015, she received the Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Please join us in celebrating the legacy of Dr. Alice McPherson.  We extend our deepest sympathy to her family.