Dr. Susan Burden: Leave Eye Surgery to Trained Surgeons - Safe Surgery NC

Dr. Susan Burden: Leave Eye Surgery to Trained Surgeons

This article was written by Dr. Susan Burden for Winston-Salem Journal. 


As an experienced teacher of eye surgeons, I implore North Carolina’s state legislators to reject two misguided proposals, House Bill 36 and Senate Bill 342, which would let optometrists — who are not medical doctors, much less surgeons — perform hundreds of kinds of eye surgery with scalpels and lasers. Such a move would needlessly threaten patient safety across North Carolina while raising the cost of health care for everyone.

Not only would HB 36 and SB 342 remove the current law’s common-sense requirement of a medical license to perform eye surgery, but also they would remove the full ability of the North Carolina Medical Board to determine the standards of medical education and surgical training. That would cast aside vital safety protections for vulnerable patients throughout North Carolina.

“Ophthalmology” and “optometry” sound similar, but they’re very different. Ophthalmologists graduate from four years of medical school, followed by four more years of specialized medical training, including surgery.

Optometrists have an important and valuable role to play in health care, but they are not medical doctors. Some optometrists believe they can learn to perform surgery properly during a 32-hour weekend course. Most optometrists in North Carolina have no surgical training at all.

I have been training ophthalmology medical residents how to operate for more than a decade. It takes three to five years of intense training to learn how to perform surgery safely and effectively. A weekend course won’t cut it.

Optometrists say the legislation would let them do three or four “simple” laser surgeries and remove “benign” lesions from the eyelid, but the bills exclude only a handful of procedures — opening the door to more than 200 kinds of eye surgery by non-surgeons, including treatment with radioactive plaques for choroidal melanoma and eye injections for macular degeneration and diabetes.

Publication: Winston-Salem Journal

Date Published: April 8, 2017

HB36 is a dangerous bill before the North Carolina General Assembly. If passed, HB36 will enable Optometrists, who did not attend medical school, the ability to perform eye surgery within our state.