Articles and Case Studies

A personal journey into ophthalmology

04 Mar 2016

outback vision

MDA National Member, Dr Angus Turner, was named “First Amongst Equals” at the 2015 40Under40 Awards. He was recognised for his role in establishing Lions Outback Vision which takes specialist eye health services to regional and remote communities, reaching nearly 5,000 people a year.

What drew you to a career in Ophthalmology?

I grew up in rural South Africa into a family of five generations of country doctors. It’s genetic – medicine is in my blood! I watched my grandfather and father role-model the vocation of country medicine and was driven to follow in their footsteps.

I decided to become an Ophthalmologist when I was 15, during a high school science experiment at Guildford Grammar. I was enthralled dissecting an ox eyeball and somehow decided to email the Professor of Ophthalmology at Oxford University (UK) to ask for a job. He suggested that perhaps I should go to medical school first! As it turned out, I contacted him after completing my medical internship at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital in 2001, and he gave me my first job.

What compelled you to improve eye health in remote communities?

My interest in remote eye health has evolved through many experiences into a passion. Saving or restoring someone’s sight has a ripple effect, changing the life not just of one individual but also a community. The magnitude and impact of visual loss makes it a compelling area to work in. The rate of blindness among Indigenous Australians is 6.2 times higher than non-Indigenous Australians. Although 94% of vision loss is preventable or treatable, 35% of Indigenous adults have never had an eye examination.

My vision has been to bridge the traditional divides between professions and health services – bringing the three streams of eye health together to improve patient outcomes: optometry, ophthalmology and retinal screening. Establishing Lions Outback Vision five years ago has been a wonderful journey with a fantastic team – there are constantly new dreams and improvements to be made.

What is your latest project?

The Lions Eye Institute is currently constructing a $2 million mobile eye health facility that will deliver the best available eye care to the bush. The Lions Outback Vision Van will have the capacity to treat 200 patients per week providing comprehensive optometry and ophthalmology care. It will travel over 24,000 kilometres a year on sealed roads throughout the state.

The most significant aspect of the Outback Vision Van is its unique service delivery model, working with the Aboriginal Health Council of WA to enhance our service delivery in Indigenous communities. It will be fully operational this year. It’s very exciting to witness this project come to life and I’m grateful for the support of LotteryWest, the WA Department of Health, and the Commonwealth Government in helping me realise this dream.

Who are the “heroes” who inspired your work?

The gaps in visual care for remote patients have been recognised for a long time and many have tackled the problem over the last five decades in Australia. I see myself as accepting the baton from Indigenous eye health pioneers such as Father Frank Flynn and Prof Ida Mann who undertook the first survey of trachoma in the 1950s and 60s, and by the legendary Professor Fred Hollows, Hugh Taylor and WA Ophthalmologists, Drs Phil House and Peter Graham.

In the words of Barack Obama: “Focusing your life solely on making a buck shows a certain poverty of ambition. It asks too little of yourself… because it’s only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you realise your true potential”.

Dr Angus Turner was recently appointed inaugural McCusker Director, Lions Outback Vision. He heads Indigenous Eye Health at UWA’s Centre of Ophthalmology and Visual Science, is a Consultant at Fremantle Hospital and teaches ophthalmology in the Rural Clinical School of WA.

Want more information on Lions Outback Vision?

Phone: (08) 9381 0802
Employment Essentials, Ophthalmology


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