Richard Dortzbach, MD Honored with Lifetime Achievement Award

Professor Emeritus Richard Dortzbach, MD received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences (DOVS) in recognition of his commitment to educating residents and fellows and for his dedication to alumni and the University of Wisconsin Ophthalmology Alumni Association.

man wearing a red tie and dark suitAffectionately known as ‘Dortz,’ Dr. Dortzbach is a prominent figure in the field of ophthalmic plastic and reconstructive surgery. Born and raised in Washington D.C., he earned his undergraduate degree from Princeton University. He earned his medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in 1963, followed by an internship and ophthalmology residency at the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics. He then completed an ophthalmic plastic and reconstructive surgery fellowship at the Eye Foundation Hospital in Birmingham, Alabama with Dr. Alston Callahan. He joined the University of Wisconsin faculty in 1968 – as the department’s first full-time oculoplastic surgeon – where he dedicated three decades of service to patients, learners, and the department before retiring in 1998. He served in many important capacities during that time, including two decades as program director of the ophthalmic plastic surgery fellowship and service chief of oculoplastics.

Throughout his extensive career in medicine, Dr. Dortzbach has been recognized nationally and internationally as one of the top professionals and most respected educators in the field. He served as president of the American Society of Ophthalmic Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (ASOPRS) in 1995. ASOPRS’ award for teaching excellence bears Dr. Dortzbach’s name.

“When I started my residency in 1970, the Dortz was just out of fellowship,” said Burton Kushner, MD, professor emeritus. “At that time, he was the only faculty member in the department who was using the operating microscope for cataract surgery, and he was the one who taught me to use it. I was able to see firsthand what a patient and dedicated teacher he was. I recognized his commitment to perfection.”

Dr. Dortzbach was known for his sense of humor, too. “In the operating room when he was concluding a case, Dortz would sometimes have the OR staff play the theme song from Rocky on a boombox,” Kushner added.

man in blue surgical scrubs in the operating room
Dr. Dortzbach in surgery

In addition to an extensive list of peer-reviewed journal articles, textbooks, and book chapters, Dr. Dortzbach is credited with training nearly two dozen oculoplastic surgery fellows. He also established the White Coat Society, a DOVS alumni organization that fosters a sense of community and excellence among ophthalmic plastic and reconstructive professionals across the globe.

older gentleman wearing a white doctor's coat with signatures on it

group of men and women in white doctor's coats decorated with colorful signatures and drawings
a White Coat Society gathering in Anaheim, California in 1991

“Dortz enjoyed a long and prolific career caring for ophthalmic patients, developing and performing exemplary surgical skills transfer programs, and most importantly mentoring and nurturing generations of ophthalmologists in our residency and fellowship training programs,” said Department Chair Terri Young, MD, MBA. “He packed in years of love, patience, innovation, fortitude, and laughter.”

DOVS colleagues and friends established the Dortzbach Professorship in Ophthalmic Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery in Dortz’s honor in 2016.

Mark Lucarelli, MD, who holds the Dortzbach Professorship, describes Dortz as a person who was always completely committed to his patients and his learners. “Dortz is one of those unique teachers and mentors you are blessed to encounter once in a career,” Lucarelli said. “He had such an intense desire to always keep improving and to not accept or settle for ‘good enough.’ He always searched for a better way.”

Dortz’s Lifetime Achievement Award was announced at the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s annual meeting in 2022, but Dr. Dortzbach was unable to attend. He formally accepted the award from department leadership at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Lunch with the Chancellor on October 26, 2023.

“Over the length of my career, I’ve been able to observe how our beloved department has progressively matured into what it is today,” Dr. Dortzbach said. “I thank the DOVS community for this opportunity, this privilege, and this honor.”