A Vision for Vision – Professor Julie Silvestri, CBE

July 6, 2023

I had the pleasure of meeting with Professor Giuliana Silvestri, (Clinical Director for Ophthalmic Services at the Belfast Health & Social Care Trust, Clinical Lead for NI Eyecare Network, Professor at the Centre of Public Health at Queen’s University, Belfast and Vision Co-Lead for the NI Clinical Research Network) to talk about her recent inclusion in the King’s Birthday Honours list and her award of Commander of the British Empire (CBE) for services to Ophthalmology and Eyecare in Northern Ireland.


The official birthday honours list was published on 17th June 2023 in the London Gazette newspaper however news of Prof Silvestri’s award trickled through to the Belfast Telegraph the day before. While she was enjoying the Tom Jones concert at Ormeau Park, messages of congratulations began to appear on Prof Silvestri’s phone, this atmosphere of celebration will be mirrored during the King’s Garden party later this year where Prof Silvestri will receive her CBE and meet the King at his Royal Palace.


Prof Silvestri had an inkling that a nomination was submitted on her behalf when the Department of Health’s Strategic Planning and Performance Group (SPPG) requested a CV in early 2023, Prof Silvestri later accepted the nomination but was sworn to secrecy until the official announcements in June. In her capacity as Clinical Director and Clinical Lead for the Northern Ireland Eye Network (NIEN) Prof Silvestri has led on changes to the NI Cataract Pathway and on the establishment of surgical Day Procedure Centres for Ophthalmology. Prof Silvestri also works closely with the Clinical leads in her service to drive forward innovations to maximise services for patients in other subspecialties and has created the opportunity to develop well-equipped Ophthalmic Outpatient Centres to facilitate 1- stop clinic attendances for common conditions.


Prof Silvestri was born in Belfast to Italian parents, Italian being her first language. She recalls being quiet when starting school and having little fluency in the English language. This makes Prof Silvestri’s achievement even more astounding. She went on to flourish at St Dominic’s Grammar School, Falls Road Belfast before attending Queen’s University in 1979. After graduating with MB BCh BAO, Prof Silvestri decided to specialise in Ophthalmology and was appointed as an academic lecturer and then a joint appointee from 1994 until 2015. She has extensive undergraduate and postgraduate clinical teaching experience and has served as an Examiner for both the Royal Colleges of Ophthalmology, London and the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh and has held a number of positions on Grant Review Committees.


In 2015 Prof Silvestri made a decisive move in her career to the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust to focus her efforts on changing pathways and improving services for Ophthalmology patients in NI, establishing care pathways that were efficient and accessible. She took a novel approach as clinical director by appointing clinical leads for each sub-specialty in Ophthalmology encouraging them to drive and develop their areas. This approach has realised many benefits for patients and Professor Silvestri would like to thank and pay tribute to the Ophthalmology clinical leads and their teams. Prof Silvestri has been internationally recognised for her clinical expertise in retinal disease and intraocular magnifying devices for AMD. Prof Silvestri had a “Vision for Vision in NI,” this along with her experience and persistence changed the Ophthalmology landscape for patients in NI. Prof Silvestri’s passion is for her patients and this has fuelled her astonishing career.


Prof Silvestri is also a primary investigator with an active programme of research focusing on genetic predisposition and causative genetic variants in ophthalmic diseases with emphasis on age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and inherited retinal disorders.  Prof Silvestri has successfully led a research team with a cumulative grant income of circa £2 million, has published over 80 peer-reviewed publications and successfully supervised students to both MD and PhD level. Amongst her many research achievements Prof Silvestri has successfully led the NI Clinical Research Network Vision Portfolio since its inception in 2010 supported by Ophthalmology co-lead and NI Clinical Research Network Director, Professor Jonathan Jackson.

It is no surprise that Prof Silvestri was honoured for her services to Ophthalmology and Eyecare in Northern Ireland and although awards and accolades were never her goal she feels very humbled and appreciative for the honour. Prof Silvestri said, “I accept this award on behalf of the Ophthalmology Clinical and Management Teams in all Trusts, the Commissioners and Community Optometry in Northern Ireland, for all those who worked tirelessly to shape this Vision. My thanks also to my research collaborators in Queen’s University Belfast, Ireland and internationally; the excellent role models and mentors that have shaped my career over the years and finally thank you to my family for their constant support and encouragement.”


Prof Silvestri lives in Lisburn with her husband Gordon, their children Laura and Adam and their 3 cats and 2 dogs.  Outside of work she enjoys ballroom and salsa dancing.


To read the full list of the Kings Birthday Honours 2023 from the London Gazette click here


Find out more about the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust Ophthalmology Service here


Written by Emma Byrne