A “world class” refractive laser eye surgical practice has been established in Warilla on the South Coast of New South Wales. Led by ophthalmologist Clinical Associate Professor Smita Agarwal, Wollongong Refractive Laser Eye Institute is the first laser equipped refractive surgery located in NSW between Hurstville in Sydney and Canberra.
Assoc/Prof Agarwal, who has just celebrated 10 years as an eye surgeon practising on the NSW South Coast, said the new surgery is equipped with state of the art equipment including a Zeiss Visumax Femtosecond Laser and Schwind Amaris excimer laser.
“We have world class technology available to us on the South Coast now – the fastest and best performing lasers, and I’m doing all three generations of refractive surgery – PRK, LASIK and SMILE,” said Assoc/ Prof Agarwal.
The Institute, which has been established in a new, purpose built building in Warilla, half way between the major regional centres of Wollongong and Nowra, provides a niche service to residents of the South Coast for NSW who would otherwise have to travel to Sydney for laser eye surgery.
TEN YEARS ON
Assoc/Prof Agarwal practises across all areas of ophthalmology – cataract, refractive, retinal, macular degeneration and glaucoma. Originally from India, she first worked in Nowra on the NSW South Coast in 2002, then completed her ophthalmology training including further training in advanced cataract surgery in Melbourne. She began practising as a staff specialist in 2007 at Westmead Hospital, training ophthalmology registrars and commenced private practice in Nowra, Sydney and Tamworth. Over ten years ago she established her first solo clinical practice in Nowra, then later opened rooms in Wollongong.
“Circumstances forced me to set up my own practices, and although it’s been quite a challenge, 10 years on I don’t regret my decision. I do not need to look up to anyone else to do what I need to do to provide best care to my patients,” she said. “I regularly invest in the latest technology, consistent with advances in ophthalmology,” she added.
With a particular passion for refractive surgery, Assoc/Prof Agarwal completed a graduate diploma in refractive ophthalmology at University of Sydney after five years in general ophthalmology.
“I maintained my general ophthalmology practice in Nowra and Wollongong, and I started practising refractive surgery in Hurstville. Some years later, I decided the travel was becoming too much and so I decided to set up my own refractive surgery on the coast as well.
“In the early days of my practice, I encountered a lot of resistance from patients and even some referrers who were concerned about whether I would be looking after patients for the long term. They were concerned I would stop work to have a family or the travel would eventually become too much, or else they just thought I was too young to have gained enough experience.”
However, Assoc/Prof Agarwal said there have also been excellent mentors and referrers who have helped her during her journey. “I feel very lucky to have achieved everything I dreamed of as a child,” she said. “Today, patients come to me from everywhere – the South Coast of NSW, Sydney and even other states. Word of mouth has really helped me build trust and a reputation. Patients now want to make sure I am the one performing their surgery.”
As well as practising, Assoc/Prof Agarwal lectures at the University of Wollongong, and is invited to speak locally and overseas, conducts research and delivers professional education sessions and seminars for optometrists, general practitioners and ophthalmologists.
“Teaching keeps my brain active, it keeps me wanting to learn more and more. I love working with students who want to learn – who ask questions and show interest, there’s so much I want to tell them.”
Above all, Assoc/Prof Agarwal says the rewards come from watching the excitement on patients’ faces when they realise their new vision after surgery, be it patients in private practice or in a developing country where she donates her time and skills every two years on a regular basis.
“I work to make a difference to people’s lives, money is not my sole motivation. I strongly feel that when you are passionate about your work and you do it really well, money and success always follows.”