Alum of the Month

Hotchkiss Alum of the Month | Benjeil Z. Edghill '94, B.S., M.D.

Ophthalmologist Benjeil Z. Edghill '94, B.S., M.D., is an expert in the latest medical, laser, and surgical treatments of glaucoma and cataracts.  His work, however, extends beyond his busy Staten Island practice, where he is the only glaucoma fellowship-trained ophthalmologist on the island. He is active in his local community, has chaired the ophthalmology section of the National Medical Association, and has traveled internationally serving the needs of others on medical missions to Ghana and Haiti (ahdhhaiti.org). "The ability to improve and sometimes save vision is a blessing. In third world countries, when elder family members become blind, a child often becomes the caretaker, preventing that child from going to school. By restoring sight, everyone gets their life back."

Edghill was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. He entered Hotchkiss through the Albert G. Oliver program, a rigorous program founded to help talented inner city youth attend private schools. He was impressed by the resources available at Hotchkiss and its beautiful campus but admits his experience there was a culture shock. "I found the academics and high expectations at Hotchkiss humbling and began to lose my confidence. One day, Mr. [Geoff] Marchant decided to use one of my poems as a test question. He treated it as if it was an Emily Dickinson masterpiece! When he revealed to the class that they were evaluating one of my works, I couldn't help but to feel proud. That moment turned my Hotchkiss career around, and I felt like I truly belonged."

Confronted with the difficult decision to attend Harvard or The University of North Carolina, he decided to become a Tar Heel. "I am proud to be a Morehead Scholar. Additionally, I met my wife, Mary Ann, there. She is a phenomenal pediatrician and mother to our two children, Esayah and Xavia."

Edghill then went to the Duke University School of Medicine, receiving several research awards. His formal training at SUNY Downstate in Brooklyn allowed him to move back to his home neighborhood of Bedford Stuyvesant. "Training in three level-one trauma centers gave me great surgical experience, and I was able to give back to the community that raised me. I have done surgery on ten family members, including my mother's cataract surgery. Her sacrifices made me who I am, and it was a blessing to be able to help her."

While an ophthalmology resident, Edghill took first place in the Rabb-Venable competition for his research on ROP, a disorder that primarily affects premature infants. He would later be elected the youngest-ever chair of the Ophthalmology section for the National Medical Association (NMA), which hosts the Rabb-Venable competition annually. Further, he became a leading voice for African American physicians in the fight for parity and justice in medicine.

He returned to Duke to complete a glaucoma fellowship. Glaucoma is the most common cause of irreversible blindness worldwide and affects approximately 80 million people. "This number is expected to rise to 112 million by 2040. Eleven million patients are bilaterally blind from glaucoma. At least half of those are unaware they have it, despite its being treatable if caught early," says Edghill, who believes in early surgical intervention to halt the progression of glaucoma and decrease the need for expensive medications. Additionally, "Glaucoma rates are four to five times higher in African Americans [than other populations], and that can partially be attributed to years of healthcare disparities. Today, there are only about 400 African American ophthalmologists in the US, making up only about three percent of the ophthalmologists in the country." While completing the glaucoma fellowship at Duke, he reunited with Hotchkiss friend Mohammed El Mallah '94, M.D.

Edghill is a founding member of the David K. McDonogh scholarship, named for America's first African-American eye and ENT Specialist. "Dr. McDonogh was born enslaved but later earned his freedom, and his story is meant to inspire others. One way to improve healthcare disparities is through a more diverse workforce. This scholarship is a pipeline to the very competitive specialties of ophthalmology and otolaryngology." He also supports Sankofa Community Empowerment (sankofaempowerment.org), which provides culturally relevant and practical educational experiences that help people of African descent learn more about their history.

This past year, Edghill lost his father, Theodore Carter Edghill, to a rare heart condition. "He was my superhero. He sent me a note at Hotchkiss that said, 'Just do your best, and that will be good enough.' This simple advice put me on a quest to achieve my 'personal best.' My dad was determined to see me fulfill my potential."

Thinking back on his time in Lakeville, Edghill fondly recounts how his advisor, Charlie Noyes, and his friendships with Clementine (Braunsberg) Igou '94 and Christian Franco '93 helped him find his community. "I have an inseparable bond with Steven Turner '94, who also came through the Oliver program. Anil Thomas '94, M.D. and Mohammed El Mallah made our band complete. We are lifelong friends."