Trans-Tasman collaboration has resulted in the world’s first post graduate degree in refractive surgery at Universities in Australia and New Zealand, with the first intake next year.
The course has been 12 months in the planning and has been designed to addresses “a gap” in the training of ophthalmologists.
Refractive surgery is not included in current training, despite it being the most common procedure performed in ophthalmology.
According to Associate Professor Gerard Sutton from the Department of Ophthalmology at Auckland and Sydney Universities, who helped establish the post graduate degree, because Australian and New Zealand ophthalmologists were at the forefront of refractive surgery. “It is fitting therefore that the first ever postgraduate degree in Refractive Surgery should be a Trans-Tasman effort involving Sydney, Auckland and Otago Universities and draw on this wealth of experience”.
“One year ago, Dr John Grigg, Head of the Discipline of Ophthalmology at Sydney University, approached me and asked me to help set up and direct this new degree,” says Prof. Sutton.
“I immediately accepted and we enlisted the help of Dr John Males and Dr Con Petsoglou who had experience establishing the successful Masters of Medicine in Ophthalmology (Basic Science). Professor Charles McGhee of Auckland University and Dr Gordon Sanderson from Otago brought to the team their considerable experience.
“Thanks to the administrative talent of Eleanor Viney from Sydney University, the submission for a new Master of Medicine in Ophthalmology (Refractive Surgery) and a Diploma of Ophthalmology (Refractive Surgery) was passed accepted by the Academic Board of Sydney University in July 2008 and the first enrolment will take place in 2009.”
Prof. Sutton says there is currently very little exposure to Refractive Surgery in Ophthalmology training in Australia and New Zealand despite being amongst the most common ophthalmic procedure performed in this part of the world.
“There is an increasing number of young ophthalmologists who are interested in making this a part of their practice. The new degree and diploma are designed to address this gap. It will give ophthalmologists a comprehensive exposure to refractive surgery including clinical training with experienced surgeons and hands on experience in a wetlab situation at Sydney Eye Hospital.”
Australia and New Zealand have a proud history in refractive surgery. The first ever Excimer Laser refractive surgical procedure (PRK) was performed by Margaurite McDonald in 1988 and the first in Australia by Dr Peter Cohen in 1991 at the Sydney Refractive Surgery Centre.
Radial Keratotomy (the Russian technique) had never really taken off here as the shortcomings of this relatively imprecise and weakening procedure was quickly realized. LASIK, however, soon became the procedure of choice after Dr Peter Stewart became the first Australian surgeon to perform this operation in 1995.
It would be fair to say that refractive surgery has had a colourful history in Australia. Initial over-enthusiasm and unrealistic expectations about its potential and application was followed by undue pessimism and negativity. Controversial issues such as bilateral surgery and the impact of advertising in medicine kept refractive surgery at the fringes of mainstream ophthalmology throughout the 1990s.
The surgical techniques, technologies and experience of the surgeons continued to improve and an increasing number of Australians and New Zealanders embraced the functional improvement it offered.
Australian and New Zealand surgeons were at the forefront of Refractive Surgery during this time. Surgeons such as Dr Michael Lawless, Professor Charles McGhee, Professor Hugh Taylor, Dr Chris Rogers, Dr Grant Snibson, Dr Noel Alpins, Associate Professor Geoff Crawford, Associate Professor Grahame Barrett, Dr Peter Stewart, Associate Professor Gerard Sutton, Dr Patrick Versace, Dr David Kent among others contributed significantly to the world body of experience and peer reviewed publications that allowed this nascent subspecialty to develop.
These surgeons had access to the technology early, observed accurately and published honestly. They became responsible for some of the seminal papers in refractive surgery.
“Ultimately, our goal is to train the next generation of refractive surgeons and make refractive surgery safer and more effective. I have no doubt that this degree will achieve its intended goals and provide graduates with a sound knowledge in Refractive Surgery and increased confidence in surgical techniques,” says Prof. Sutton.
|How the new degree will work|
Both the Diploma and Master’s Degree in Refractive Surgery are based on the successful Master of Medicine (Ophthalmic Science) run through Sydney and Otago Univeristies. The ophthalmic basic science program is the only course of its kind in Australasia. It is a collaborative program between the ophthalmology departments of the University of Otago in New Zealand and The University of Sydney. The web-based distance learning program has been designed to allow medical and science graduates and eye health professionals to further their careers by studying at their own pace while maintaining positions within hospital departments, training programs, private practices, clinics and research facilities.
The program can be taken on a full-time or part-time basis. All units of study are offered as distance learning with the exception of Practical Ophthalmic Science which is taught as a full-time practical course over three weeks in Sydney or Dunedin, New Zealand.
Similarly in the new Refractive Surgery degrees, the units of study can be taken part or full time and are offered as distance learning with a compulsory practical component. The Master’s Degree involves more advanced and in depth study.