For more than 45 years, Susan Carleton Benes, MD, has been regarded as one of the nation’s foremost experts in neuro-ophthalmology, orbital diseases, and orbital surgery. Deeply passionate about medicine “since she can remember,” among her first memories are playing “hospital” with her cousins as a child in Ohio, pretending to care for them while they lay in hammocks and swings, and she dreamed of becoming a doctor. She earned her Doctor of Medicine at Drexel University College of Medicine in 1975 after completing undergraduate coursework and a teacher’s license at the University of Michigan in 1970, and pursued a series of highly competitive residencies and fellowships. After a one-year residency in internal medicine at Philadelphia’s Lankenau Hospital, Dr. Benes spent 1976-1979 as a resident in ophthalmology at the Wills Eye Hospital, who awarded her an additional yearlong fellowship in neuro-ophthalmology in 1979-1980.
Inspired by a family legacy of travel and missionary work and memories of her grandparents, who regaled her with stories of their childhoods in India and Japan, Dr. Benes has dedicated much of her career to humanitarian outreach, teaching, and international consulting. Dr. Benes briefly remained at the Wills Eye Hospital as a staff physician before traveling to Nairobi, where she spent 1980 as a lecturer and guest faculty in neuro-ophthalmology at Kenyatta University and visiting staff at Tumu Hospital. Though she returned to the United States in 1981 to accept a professorship at Ohio State University, Dr. Benes’ time at Kenyatta University inspired her to continue her focus on global medicine. She has traveled over four decades as a medical volunteer, including doing surgery and teaching trips to Ecuador and the Marshall Islands in 1985 and 1987, and providing expert consultation on a 1992 blindness and malnutrition survey in Honduras. Her work continued with medical aid trips to Mexico and the Republic of Georgia in the 1990s, and she was invited to address a national meeting of physicians in Peru in 2002 and lecture at Haceteppe University Medical School in Ankara, Turkey, in both 1995 and 2003.
As an expert in blindness and cutting-edge interventions, Dr. Benes treated patients and consulted at the Eye Center of Columbus from 2006-2017, spent several years as a consultant to patients undergoing stem cell therapies for ocular conditions, and was even invited to work with researchers studying blindness in sea lion populations in the Galapagos Islands in the early 2000s. In 2017, Dr. Benes relocated to Colorado, where she continues to provide consultations through the Heart of the Rockies Regional Medical Center and volunteer on a global scale, traveling to Mongolia to provide medical assistance in 2018. She cared for patients in Ethiopia in 2019 and 2020, teaching residents at Addis Ababa University and performing optic nerve surgery while there.
Throughout her career, Dr. Benes has contributed extensively to books, professional journals, and academic conferences, and considers it a privilege to have taught and supervised countless students, nurses, and residents at Ohio State University and across the world. When asked about her future plans, she admits that she is reluctant to retire, as she retains the same enthusiasm for medicine and teaching that she had as a resident, and she hopes to continue working part-time for several more years. Since moving to Colorado, Dr. Benes has become certified as a Master Gardener, and she enjoys donating her time as a volunteer gardener for Chaffee County.
Dr. Benes is the proud mother of three adult children, Jen, David, and Olivia, who have all followed her footsteps to find success in teaching, natural sciences and medicine, and is a grandmother of five. She credits her success to having been blessed with an incredible family, husband, and colleagues, and the opportunity to live in the United States and share her advantages with others. Dr. Benes is a Fellow of the American Academy of Ophthalmology and the North American Neuro-Ophthalmology Society, and she remains a member of the American Medical Association, the Colorado Society of Eye Physicians and Surgeons, and the Alpha Omega Alpha Medical Honor Society. In recognition of her lifetime of dedication to her work and her community, Dr. Benes was a grantee of the National Institutes of Health, and was honored with the 1993 Columbus Interfaith Council Living Faith Award and Camp Fire, Inc.’s Wakian Service Award for five years as a Camp Fire Girls leader. She has been profiled in nearly two dozen editions of Who’s Who in the World, Who’s Who in Medicine and Healthcare, Who’s Who of American Women, and others, and has been presented with the Albert Nelson Marquis Lifetime Achievement Award.