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Interview with Dr Paul Ramkissoon

Ed: I have been looking forward to this chat with you. We have both been involved with Vision Magazine for a long time, as editors and contributors, but this opportunity has never arisen.

Q: The first thing I have to ask you, is it true that you hold every meaningful qualification available in optometry globally?

A: It appears to be. The BOptom degree is seen as a great qualification in good old-fashioned optics, visual psychophysics and refraction. However, the American OD (Doctor of Optometry) is viewed as the world’s premier qualification in optometry, with emphasis on optics plus management of ocular disease. As good as any university optometry curriculum and lecturers might be; there are aspects of patient management that you can only get from being in private practice. This is often learned the hard way after having to deal with fastidious patients and making your very own mistakes. On the other hand, being in private practice, one should not allow oneself to stagnate by possessing the same knowledge base that was acquired during one’s undergraduate days and continue using the same dogma as a supreme mantra throughout one’s professional career. After graduation, I decided to embark on a journey of continuously educating myself by keeping abreast with ongoing research and best practice guidelines. This has been really beneficial to me, both personally and professionally. I describe myself as a private practitioner with keen academic interest, enjoying the best of both worlds.

Q: Why optometry? It seems to me you could have studied any discipline successfully.

A: In standard 7, I struggled to see the board at school. Whilst in foster care, I visited the State Optometrist at RK Khan Hospital. I was impressed by the difference a pair of spectacles made to my life. Remember, that in the 70’s and 80’s, people still made fun of you when you wore spectacles. To make things worse, I was dispensed the indigent (welfare) spectacle frame called Peter. This was not the most aesthetic pair of glasses. The world has changed a lot these days, most people want to be seen wearing spectacles. As a teenager, I understood the importance of good vision in a person’s life and felt that optometry was the most fascinating profession.

Q: You are to my knowledge the most educated optometrist in South Africa. I would have expected you to practice in a big city, yet, we find you here in New Castle.

A: Essentially, optometrists are health practitioners who are remunerated for their time and clinical skills by patients. So, whether you work in a large city or a small town, it is important that you are well occupied with your calling. The obvious difference is the overall quality of life, that is evident in smaller towns. The commute to work is less than 10 minutes (with relatively no traffic congestion). In addition, schools, clinics, hospitals, malls, parks and recreational centres are in close proximity. I see patients from various parts of South Africa and sometimes the world, and can afford the same creature comforts as my colleagues in the big cities.

Q: How many years have you been studying?

Thirty years. I am a perpetual student and continued studying after completing the BOptom degree in 1987. The last qualification I obtained was the Post Graduate Certificate in Ocular Therapeutics through UKZN/SUNY in 2015 with the six hundred clinical hours completed on 2nd October 2016. If there is a course that is relevant and benefits the patient, I shall not shy away from the challenge.

A: Can you talk me through the where, when and how you did it?

The late Irvin Borish congratulating me after a lecture in the USA.

My first qualification, Bachelor of Optometry (UDW, 1987) was completed full time, while the others were completed part time. The Fellow of the American Academy of Optometry (FAAO) title, which is globally regarded as a highly reputable qualification by researchers and clinicians, was obtained in San Antonio Texas in 1997. At the same time, I did a course in PRK laser in Texas. During the 90’s, RAU was becoming a research power house in the world and in 1999, I completed my MPhil (Optometry) under Prof. Jannie Ferreira. Our relationship grew with an Advanced Diploma in Sports Vision (2001) and DPhil (Optometry) in Orthokeratology, 2004. Being the first practitioner to practice this mode of contact lenses, it was my honour to train as many South African optometrists in this field at UJ in the part-time Sports Vision course for 14 years. Meanwhile, I successfully completed all the various CAS courses that were offered locally, such as Advanced Contact Lenses etc.. I obtained a course work master’s degree (MOptom), through UDW in 2003. The Doctor of Optometry (New England College of Optometry) clinical rotations were done from 2002 to 2004. I chose sites that will enhance my skills as a practitioner. Dorchester Clinic, a multi-disciplinary Health centre in Boston, USA was chosen for its focus on primary health care. My VA sites were based in New York, spending time between Montrose VA Hospital and Castle Point VA Hospital. Both these sites were great for ocular therapeutics and low vision. In addition, I spent 6 months at Edendale Hospital in Pietermaritzburg. Here, I had the privilege of working with local registrars training to be ophthalmologists. This provided me insight into the training of ophthalmologists. In 2012, UKZN awarded me Honorary Professorship. I have over ninety optometry publications in various journals.

Q: Tell me a bit about your practice set up. Do you have any favourite specialty?

State-of-art equipment with all the “bells and whistles.”
Front view of my practice showing modern decor.

A: As a primary health care practitioner, I see the eye as a complete entity. As a result, I am willing to examine patients in whatever way they present themselves. This is similar to a health practitioner able to treat patients in the hospital casualty department. During the 80’s and 90’s, South Africa was plagued with violence. This situation forced me to fit prosthetic eyes. The next advancement in my practice was understanding tear film dynamics and the nuances of corneal topography, which made a huge difference in advanced contact lens designs. Strabismus and binocular vision are “Cinderella” clinical areas in optometry. However, I have developed a simplified routine for this, which works quite effectively in practice. From the knowledge, I obtained from my OD degree and experience in practice, I have used to promote Ocular Therapeutics in South Africa. My wife, Prelina, who is a dispensing optician, assists in making my life easier and contributes immensely to the integral success of my practice.

Q: Do you still teach? Do you have any ties with the universities?

A: Yes, I do guest lectures. I also serve as a supervisor and external examiner of Master’s and Doctorate degrees.

Q: What other optometry related projects are you involved with?

  • Over the years, I have a developed a series of clinical notes which I update.
  • I assist optometry organisations as an advisor.
  • At times, I am called to serve as a reviewer of the African Vision and Eye Health Journal (formerly known as The South African Optometrist).
  • Vision keeps me occupied as a regular columnist.

Q: Is there a life outside of optometry?

A: I enjoy sci-fi and thriller movies. Watercolour painting, photography and 3 fishing trips a year with friends, are my guilty pleasures.

Q: Do you have any specific goals for the future?

A: To participate in optometry-related workshops, seminars and conferences, locally and internationally. Spending more time with my family, to enjoy and share each other’s happiness.

Ed: Over the years you have made a massive contribution to Vision Magazine with your top-quality contributions. You are an editor’s dream, because nothing is ever out of place in your submissions. We thank you for that.

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