A veterinary career in ophthalmology

Gil Ben-Shlomo examining a dolphin's eye

As a little kid, living in a small apartment in a big city (Jerusalem), I did not have pets but was always looking for stray dogs and cats to interact with. I was also exposed to medicine from a young age as my mother was a nurse. I liked visiting her at work and was captivated by the medical equipment and treatments at the hospital. When I learned about the existence of veterinary medicine I felt as if the profession had been invented especially for me.

Despite never having owned a pet or interacted with a single veterinarian, I knew then what I wanted to do – and I graduated from the Koret School of Veterinary Medicine at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel, in 1999. Actually, while I was a student, I finally became the owner of my first dog and cat.

PhD and eye research

Following graduation, I worked in small animal and equine practice and, about two years later, opened my own clinic. I also started a PhD in ophthalmology and neurobiology back at the Koret School of Veterinary Medicine. I had enjoyed the ophthalmology course as a student and was intrigued by the complexity of the eye and the need to use and combine a broad knowledge base involving several disciplines – internal medicine, surgery (and microsurgery), neurology, oncology, dermatology and others. The deeper I got into my PhD and eye research, the clearer it became that ophthalmology was my passion.

A career in ophthalmology

While working on my PhD thesis, I started a comparative ophthalmology residency at the University of Florida and, since completing it, I've served as a professor at Iowa State University (ISU). In my current role, I practise ophthalmology at the university's veterinary teaching hospital, as well as carrying out eye research and teaching new generations of veterinary students and veterinarians my favourite subject. I'm lucky enough to work in a state-of-the-art hospital, with cutting-edge technology and a large team of specialists, technicians, and students, enabling me to provide the best possible care to my patients using integrative medicine. I am proud to be part of this excellent team.

Using the operating microscope to perform delicate surgeries, such as cataract and corneal surgeries, is something I particularly enjoy. There's nothing like getting into the operating theatre with a dog blinded as a result of cataracts and leaving it with a dog that can see. I also love the opportunity ophthalmology gives me to work with different species. While most of my work is with dogs, horses and cats, I also see exotic, zoo, and wild animals – I've treated tigers, lions, elephants, rhinoceros, dolphins, sea lions, emu and flamingos, to name but a few.

"There's nothing like getting into the operating theatre with a dog blinded as a result of cataracts and leaving it with a dog that can see"

As well as being a rewarding discipline, ophthalmology is important because eye problems, from disease to trauma, are common and the consequences of misdiagnosing and/or mistreating them can be serious, leading to a loss of vision or the eye itself.

Developments in the field of ophthalmology

In recent years, the field of veterinary ophthalmology has developed dramatically. New research techniques, combined with the development of more cost-effective techniques, have contributed to our knowledge and led to better understanding of the pathophysiology of eye disease, and to the creation of new medications and treatment modalities. It feels as though there has never been a more exciting time to be working in ophthalmology.

I am now a Board Certified Veterinary Ophthalmologist and a Diplomate of both the American and European Colleges of Veterinary Ophthalmologists. I am also a registered specialist in ophthalmology in the State of Israel. As a board member of the International Society of Veterinary Ophthalmology, I work with colleagues to bring together the many local and national veterinary ophthalmology organisations in order to promote the worldwide exchange of information relating to the eye and vision in domestic and native animal species. We provide multiple platforms to facilitate communication between veterinarians and veterinary ophthalmologists worldwide, including our website, Facebook group and our quarterly newsletter, The Globe. We offer continuing education in ophthalmology to veterinarians, such as the one-day satellite meeting we are holding prior to (and in affiliation with) the World Small Animal Veterinary Association's (WSAVA's) world congress that takes place later this month in Cartagena, Colombia.

Last, but not least, each year the WSAVA offers travel scholarships to aspiring ophthalmologists who wish to spend one month of study in a centre of ophthalmic excellence.

Looking back, I know I made the right decision about my career and I'm still passionate about my work. I'm particularly honoured and proud to be a mentor to the next generation of veterinarians and to be training others in the discipline that I love so much.

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