There and Back Again: Musayeva Makes Her Way to Jones Eye Institute

By Benjamin Waldrum

Musayeva arrived in the United States in 2020, working as a research fellow at Harvard Medical School in Massachusetts. Before she could start work at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences’ (UAMS) Harvey & Bernice Jones Eye Institute, she had to leave the U.S. and then come back.

Although she was already living and working in the United States, visa rules require that applicants go through U.S. embassies, which are located in other countries. So, Musayeva lived abroad in London while waiting for her application to go through.

Completing the visa process can take up to half a year. However, something unlikely happened: Musayeva was able to return to the U.S. and to start at Jones Eye in just a few short weeks.

Warner, Elrod, Kelly, Musayeva

Musayeva (far right) with members of the Eye Institute cornea team (from left to right): Bristal Elrod, David Warner, M.D., and Ashlynn Kelly.

“It was really dramatic,” she said. “We thought it would be ready around March or April [2023], but it was exactly one month. I applied in December and on December 30, I received it. I took a flight to Little Rock the next day.”

It took a team of lawyers, embassy staff and Jones Eye Institute Director Paul Phillips, M.D., to help speed the process.

“We worked nonstop on it: me, the lawyers, Dr. Phillips, the embassy,” Musayeva said.  “Sometimes there would be more than 10 phone calls a day. I really wanted to start [at Jones Eye Institute] as soon as possible. Fortunately, it worked out.”

Now, she and her husband, a software engineer, are happily living in Little Rock and getting used to life in the Natural State.

A native of Kurdemir, Azerbaijan, Musayeva received her medical degree in 2011 from Azerbaijan Medical University in Baku before beginning an ophthalmology internship there. She spent 2012-2018 in Germany at University Medical Center of the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, where she obtained a second medical degree and became a consulting physician. In 2019 she received fellowship training at the Netherlands Institute for Innovative Ocular Surgery in Rotterdam and the Ocular Microsurgery Institute in Barcelona, Spain. In 2020 she was a research fellow at Antwerp University Hospital in Belgium, then a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard.

All that globe-trotting has its advantages. For example, Musayeva speaks five languages fluently — her native Azerbaijani as well as English, German, Russian and Turkish. She’s also brushing up on her Dutch and Spanish.

One sister lives in London, while another is a gynecologist in Baku, Azerbaijan. She also has a brother who is studying in Turkey. She tries to return home to her family in Azerbaijan at least once a year.

Moving around has also been a way for her to learn from different ophthalmologists. “Having seen different types of surgeries and how different surgeons approach the same case, it definitely gives you a lot of experience,” she said.

Musayeva has varied research interests, including corneal transplantation, ocular surface and dry eye diseases, glaucoma and retinal stress. Her clinical interests are similar but also includes treating keratoconus and keratitis. She said she focuses on both research and clinical care to keep up with the latest information on both.

“I love doing research, but I love being in clinic as well,” she said. “I have been working for 11 years now, and you still see new things. My colleagues who have been working for 25 years say the same. It’s never-ending learning.”

In particular, Musayeva is interested in emerging research on limbal stem cells. In the eye, limbal stem cell deficiency can lead to corneal damage and blindness. A possible treatment, using stem cells to repair and regenerate corneal tissue, could help patients in the future.

“I’m getting to know the studies from other university hospitals,” she said. “It’s important to know what is done, and what we still need to do. But I can imagine it being possible here.”

Meanwhile, Musayeva said she enjoys Arkansas.

“When I came here last year, I got to know the place and the people,” she said. “I had a good impression when I met the team, and I have the same impression now. The team is great, and I really like how Jones Eye is organized. It’s a really great place to work.”