Ronald G. Michels


Contributed by Connor Sakis, MD (cand.)

Dr. Ronald Michels was one of the preeminent ophthalmologists and vitreoretinal surgeons of his time. Born in Detroit, Michigan on September 12, 1943, he spent the majority of his young life in Henderson, North Carolina.[1] At the University of North Carolina, he received his Bachelor of Science degree in 1965 and his medical degree in 1968. Dr. Michels completed his residency training at the Johns Hopkins Hospital’s Wilmer Eye Institute in 1972. The following year, he completed fellowship training in vitreoretinal surgery at The University of Miami’s Bascom Palmer Eye Institute.[1] He would go on to serve as the deputy director of the Wilmer Institute from 1979 to 1989, and eventually as codirector of the Retina Center at St. Joseph Medical Center in Maryland.[1] Tragically, he passed away on January 15th, 1991, while awaiting a heart transplant.[1]

Dr. Michels’ surgical career was truly extraordinary. On just the first day of his residency, his brilliance was recognized by his instructors. His inaugural patient presentation was one that “… any visiting professor would have been proud to have given”.[2] By the time his training was complete, he was already known as a world-renowned retina specialist. In the 1970s, at the height of the cold war, he was summoned by the Kremlin to operate on a Soviet Leader for macular pucker. Shortly thereafter, he operated on an Afghan resistance hero to save his remaining eye. Dr. Michels was also sought after to treat celebrities, including the boxers Ernie Shavers and Sugar Ray Leonard.[2] Regardless of the patient’s importance or status, he always treated them with the utmost diligence and compassion. His colleague, Dr. Stephen Ryan, wrote that all of Dr. Michel’s patients “…received equal treatment, that is, the best”.[2]

Throughout his career, Dr. Michels authored more than 280 publications.[3] His papers covered a variety of topics including branch vein occlusion, diabetic retinopathy, epiretinal membranes, and more.[1, 2, 3] However, some consider his textbooks Vitreous Surgery (1981) and Retinal Detachment (1990) to be his greatest professional accomplishments. The textbooks were awarded prizes for medical illustration and writing and were voted Medical Book of the Year. [1, 2, 3] Retinal Detachment, which he co-authored with Drs. C.P. Wilkinson and Thomas Rice, has been referred to as both a “masterpiece” [4] and an “instant classic”.[5] It can be read chapter by chapter or consulted in reference to a specific clinical issue. The second edition of the book, published in 1997, was named in Dr. Michels’ honor.[5]

While in practice, Dr. Michels helped educate the next generation of vitreoretinal surgeons. He instilled his values in all 40 of the fellows that he trained at Johns Hopkins.[3, 6] Dr. Julia Haller, ophthalmologist-in-chief at Thomas Jefferson University’s Wills Eye Institute, fondly remembers her time working under Dr. Michels. He taught her to see patients personally throughout their treatment, from their first visit to their post-operative visits. She also learned to perform exams and procedures methodically, including creating hand-drawn diagrams of each patient’s retina.[6] She, and others who learned from him, can attribute their much of their success to his world-class instruction.

Today, more than 20 years after his passing, Dr. Michels continues to influence the field of vitreoretinal surgery. The Ronald G. Michels Fellowship Foundation, created in his honor, annually awards two vitreoretinal fellows with a cash stipend and a plaque. Known as “The Michels”, it is one of the most prestigious awards in ophthalmology.[3] Through his colleagues, research, textbooks, and foundation, Dr. Michels impacted medicine in a way few others have. He will always be remembered as an incredible physician and person.



Recipient of the Award of Merit from The American Academy of Ophthalmology

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Recipient of the Myers Honor Award for Distinguished Research in Ophthalmology

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Recipient of the Heed Foundation Award for Outstanding Contributions to Ophthalmology

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Published seminal textbook Vitreous Surgery

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Recipient of Senior Honor Award from the American Academy of Ophthalmology for teaching efforts

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Published seminal textbook Retinal Detachment

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Academic Appointment


  • Chief Resident and Instructor of Ophthalmology at Wilmer Eye Institute


  • Promoted to associate professor at Wilmer Eye Institute


  • Served as deputy director of the Wilmer Eye Institute


  • Promoted to professor at Wilmer Eye Institute


  • Named co-director of the Retina Center at St. Joseph Medical Center

Education & Training

Bachelor of Science: University of North Carolina, 1965

Medical Doctorate: University of North Carolina, 1968

Internship: Johns Hopkins Hospital, 1969

Residency in Ophthalmology: Johns Hopkins Hospital’s Wilmer Eye Institute, 1972

Fellowship: University of Miami’s Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, 1973

Photo Gallery:

Depiction of a Scleral Buckle Credit: de Bustros S.; Michels R., Surgical Treatment of Retinal Detachments Complicated by Proliferative Vitreoretinopathy, American Journal of Ophthalmology, Volume 98, Issue 6, 1984.
Depiction of an Epiretinal Membrane Removal Credit: de Bustros S.; Michels R., Surgical Treatment of Retinal Detachments Complicated by Proliferative Vitreoretinopathy, American Journal of Ophthalmology, Volume 98, Issue 6, 1984.


  1. Stark WJ. Ronald G. Michels, MD, 1943-1991. Arch Ophthalmol. 1991;109(3):335. doi:10.1001/archopht.1991.01080030037032
  2. Ryan S. Ronald G. Michels, American Journal of Ophthalmology, Volume 111, Issue 5, 1991, Pages 661-663, ISSN 0002-9394,
  3. Ronald G. Michels Fellowship Foundation. Los Angeles, CA: Medical Conference Planners International; 2022. Accessed 2022.
  4. Tasman W. History of Retina 1896–1996, Ophthalmology, Volume 103, Supplement 8, 1996, Pages S143-S152, ISSN 0161-6420,
  5. Weinberg D. Michels retinal detachment: Second Edition, by Charles P. Wilkinson and Thomas A. Rice, St. Louis, Mosby-Year Book, Inc. 1997, 1,184 pp., Survey of Ophthalmology, Volume 42, Issue 1, 1997, Pages 95-96, ISSN 0039-6257,
  6. Haller J. Ron Michels, MD: A Surgeon of High Standards. New Retina MD. 2017;8(2).
  7. de Bustros S.; Michels R., Surgical Treatment of Retinal Detachments Complicated by Proliferative Vitreoretinopathy, American Journal of Ophthalmology, Volume 98, Issue 6, 1984, Pages 694-699, ISSN 0002-9394,