Optometry Students and Lasers: In a Pig’s Eye!

Alas, NBEO board exams have come and gone. My classmates and I are free again. Free from studying at all hours of the day and night without end. Except, we’re not free. At any moment, we’re haunted by the bone-chilling thought of having failed boards. But that aside, life is pretty great right now.

After those two dreaded days of exams, we picked up where we left off and spring quarter classes began. In our last quarter here at ICO, we are taking four classes:  Injections for the Optometrist, Business of Optometry, Strabismus & Amblyopia II, and Ophthalmic Lasers. Back when spring quarter had began and we were off for a month to study for boards, my classmates and I got a taste of Ophthalmic Lasers during an evening workshop with TLC. TLC is a company of ophthalmologists and optometrists providing eye surgery and LASIK in Mid-Michigan and Northwest Ohio. TLC providers specialize in “cataracts, glaucoma, macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, retinal tears and detachments, eye infections, and laser vision correction.”

The event with TLC brought in optometrists and technicians that taught us how to perform a number of refractive laser procedures complete with hands-on demonstrations. In some states, namely Kentucky, Louisiana and Oklahoma, optometrists can perform these laser procedures.

In our gymnasium, stations were set up to teach three techniques. The first station that I visited was set up to teach corneal epithelium removal, an initial set in PRK. In PRK surgery, the corneal epithelium is removed and then the corneal stroma is treated with laser. Once an overview of the technique was given, I gloved up to perform epithelium removal on pig eyes. Since pig eyes are pretty similar to human eyes, the simulation was great and comparable to doing the procedures on real patients.

The second station I visited demonstrated how to create a flap for Lasik using a femtosecond laser. During Lasik, a flap is made from corneal epithelium, then laser is applied to correct refractive error and the flap is laid back down. Like in the first station, we carried out the procedures using pig eyes. While we used the more precise femtosecond laser to create the flap, corneal flaps can also be made mechanically using a device called a microkeratome. In a way, the last station I visited finished the story. While listening to an ICO grad talk about his own experience working at TLC, one by one we got the opportunity to apply the corrective excimer laser to pig eyes that already had flaps created.

All in all, the workshop was pretty neat. We learned a lot about refractive surgery techniques and how to perform them ourselves. And if time takes any of us to places like KY, LA or OK, performing these skills will be well within our scope of practice. Now that boards are done and classes have resumed for us, we’re learning the intricacies of how lasers work, about the multitude of other lasers used in eye care, and much more.

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Work station for corneal epithelium removal 

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A closer look at the days old pig eye and our instruments of choice

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Work station for femtosecond laser guided epithelial flap creation 

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