February 2, 2019 | ° F

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The Flying Eye Hospital originated during the 1980s with groups of eye doctors and aviation professionals who thought going to countries to treat patients in need would be more effective then bringing those patients to the United States. 

The typical eye doctor usually works in an office or hospital on the ground. Rudolph Wagner, takes his practice sky high.

A clinical associate professor in the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Science at Rutgers—Newark, Wagner takes his work to the skies by operating in an airplane that is preventing blindness and treating eye diseases around the world. 

Otherwise known as the Flying Eye Hospital, the plane doubles as both a teaching facility and hospital as it includes an operating room, classroom and recovery room, according to Orbis, the nonprofit, non-governmental organization that created the program. 

The idea for the Flying Eye Hospital came from a group of eye doctors and people in the aviation industry during the 1980s, Wagner said. They thought that it would be more effective to educate and care for patients in countries where it was most needed than to bring patients to the United States for surgery, he said.

“The focus continues to be preventing and eliminating blindness worldwide through education, training, advocacy while improving the lives of patients,” he said. “It is all about getting healthcare professionals to work together for these goals.”

Previously a cargo plane, the Flying Eye Hospital is now equipped with the latest medical tools, such as 3D microscopes, as well as technology for teaching, such as an advanced audio visual system where doctors in the classroom can observe surgeries in real time, Wagner said. The operations can also be broadcast to doctors around the world with Orbis’ telemedicine platform, Cybersight. 

Orbis also tailors its curriculum for different hospitals around the world based on their technological capabilities, according to its website. Volunteers provide education to doctors on the airplane and the local hospital that is still high-quality, but also practical to the hospital’s needs. 

While working for Orbis, Wagner has had the opportunity to travel to many countries, including Ethiopia, China, India and El Salvador, he said. His patients have been very appreciative of the care they received. 

“I have seen some parents travel hundreds of miles to bring their child to our programs in hope that we can improve their sight, which will create opportunities for them in the future,” he said. 

Wagner first decided to become a physician because he always enjoyed science and wanted to put his knowledge to use in a way that could make a difference in other people’s lives. 

He said he finds his career choice as both a teacher and a traveling ophthalmologist to be very rewarding.

“The experience has made the world smaller for me,” he said. “People have the same goals for their education and families everywhere … Parents want the best for their children just like here.”

A challenge Wagner said he faced was balancing his academic career at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, where he teaches physicians in Department of Ophthalmology, with the Orbis programs he participates in.

“But it is well worth it, when you see the joy in the families you help and the young doctors you help to train,” he said. 

Catherine Nguyen

Catherine Nguyen is a School of Arts and Science first-year. She is a staff writer @ The Daily Targum.?

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