Sight. We take it for granted until it's gone. If you needed surgery on your eyes, would you rather have a medically trained eye surgeon or someone whose training consisted of a 32-hour weekend course?
Most of us would choose the eye surgeon, otherwise known as an ophthalmologist.
There is a big difference between an optometrist and an ophthalmologist. An optometrist specializes in eye care. Although they are considered doctors of optometry, they have no medical training and have no requirements for residency training and clinical rotations.
An ophthalmologist is a trained medical doctor, specializing in eye surgery and requiring years of surgical experience. As an ophthalmologist, I am acutely aware of how complicated and delicate an organ the eye is. Becoming an eye surgeon is purposefully a long process. It requires four years of undergraduate college, four years of medical school, including two years of clinical rotations, a year-long internship, and three years of ophthalmology residency. This training is necessary and vital to ensure that you and your family are receiving the highest quality medical eye care, and that is why I am speaking up on behalf of you, the patient.
If optometrists are successful in their legislative goal to expand their scope of work in Arkansas, they will be able to perform surgeries on the eyes and eyelids of their patients with lasers, scalpels, and other surgical instruments after only having to attend a 32-hour training course!
Attempting to condense eight years of medical school and residency into a 32-hour instruction course is unrealistic and dangerous to the public health. Additionally, under the current proposed legislation, optometrists that complete the short training course would not be licensed or regulated by the Arkansas State Medical Board.
Let that last sentence sink in. The Arkansas State Medical Board would have no oversight over risky procedures performed on one of our most important organs.
Optometrists certainly have an important role in eye care. Arkansas is fortunate to have access to over 400 optometrists across the state to serve our communities. However, the difference between optometrists and ophthalmologists is distinctly clear, and their differing roles exist for a reason. This issue has a real risk attached to it that is unnecessary and is driven by the desire for increased profits.
As a medical doctor, I took an oath to, first, do no harm. Because of this, I cannot in good faith support a measure that is clearly not in the best interest of Arkansas patients, and I feel a responsibility to speak out in opposition to this dangerous bill.
According to a recent poll by the Arkansas Medical Society, 79 percent of Arkansans said they oppose expanding the scope of practice for optometrists to include eye surgery. Furthermore, when asked which was more important to them, 93 percent of Arkansans surveyed said they would prefer a licensed medical doctor trained in eye surgery to an optometrist at a more convenient location.
This tells me that Arkansans are not willing to compromise when it comes to getting quality health care, specifically when it comes to procedures as delicate as eye surgery. Much like you would want a cardiac surgeon to perform open-heart surgery, Arkansans want a medically trained eye surgeon to perform surgical procedures on the eye.
This legislation is coming, and I ask that you join me in asking your state representative and state senator to stand up for the health of your eyes and urge them to oppose letting non-medically and non-surgically trained providers perform eye surgery.
The health of your eyes depends on it.
Dr. Robert Lowery, M.D., is president of the Arkansas Ophthalmological Society and has been practicing for 20 years. He graduated from University Of Arkansas College of Medicine in 1999 and specializes in ophthalmology and pediatric ophthalmology. He currently practices at Arkansas Children's Hospital.
Editorial on 02/18/2019