Fred was an advocate for hands-on learning. He firmly believed there should always be three people in a room: a teacher, a student, and a patient. Whether he was in an operating theatre in Sydney or Hanoi, Fred took great delight in seeing the moment of understanding in his students’ eyes.
Fred could always see the big picture. He knew his students would eventually become teachers too. While a country might only have one eye doctor, soon enough it could have two, then ten.
“Teach the teachers first, then the teachers can teach others.”
– Professor Fred Hollows
Despite being very ill with cancer, Fred discharged himself from hospital in July 1992 to fly to Hanoi. He wanted to fulfil his promise to train over 300 Vietnamese eye specialists in modern eye surgery techniques.
At that time only 1,000 cataract operations were performed each year in Vietnam. Students packed the operating theatre as Fred, too ill to perform the surgeries himself, instructed his students with his usual enthusiasm, dedication and demand for perfection. Today, his former students are leading the way in eye care in Vietnam, performing 160,000 surgeries a year.
One of the biggest challenges we face in the Pacific is the shortage of trained eye care workers. Like Fred, we know that training local people is the only way to eliminate avoidable blindness in a sustainable way. That’s why we work with local Ministries of Health to train and support eye doctors, nurses, healthcare, and community workers to recognise, refer and treat eye problems.
“What we’re doing is revolutionary, something big health organisations aren’t doing. They send eye doctors. What we are doing is giving these people the chance to help themselves. We are giving them independence.”
– Professor Fred Hollows
We provide specialist medical training to local doctors and nurses so they can take over the sight-saving work carried out by visiting surgical teams. We also train community health workers and technicians to provide eye care support services such as diabetes screening, vision testing and dispensing of spectacles. All graduates return home to work for their Ministries of Health, giving tens of thousands of people access to high quality eye care services.
We provide ongoing support to our graduates to make sure they have everything they need to provide high quality eye care in their communities.
Training is the cornerstone of our work in the Pacific, which is why we established the Pacific Eye Institute in Fiji in 2006. Here we train desperately needed eye doctors, nurses, community health workers and technicians. We also provide training in Papua New Guinea in partnership with Divine Word University and Modilon General Hospital.
Fred knew that training just one eye doctor could have a huge impact, because they could go on to train hundreds more.
Four post-graduate level courses are offered for eye care professionals at the Pacific Eye Institute:
Fiji National University/Pacific Eye Institute
Divine Word University
Community health nurses connected patients with eye health services, and often identify potentially damaging eye issues before they become critical. They visit communities, diagnose a range of medical conditions, and refer people to medical clinics, hospitals and doctors.
In 2017, we up-skilled 327 community health nurses from six countries on the complications diabetes can have on the eye and the need to refer patients with diabetes for regular eye screening.