Cornea and External Disease Fellowship

Wills Eye, one of the premier eye hospitals in the country, is affiliated with, and is on the medical campus of Thomas Jefferson University Hospital Medical Center.  Both the Wills Eye residency program and numerous subspecialty fellowships are highly sought after.  Our Cornea Fellowship Program participates with the Association of University Professors of Ophthalmology Fellowship Compliance Committee (AUPO FCC).

The Cornea and External Disease fellowship is usually one-year duration beginning the first week of July and ending the first week of July the following year.  We have three full-time fellows who perform surgery and one or more research fellows, typically from outside the United Startes.  The fellowship is primarily patient care oriented with significant clinical research opportunities.  The fellowship is based in the Corneal Associates practice of Drs. Rapuano, Hammersmith, Nagra and Azari at Wills Eye, and the Ophthalmic Partners of Pennsylvania practice of Drs. Raber and Ayres.  In total we see about 500 patients a week.  The fellows examine the patients after which the staff physician will see each patient and review the fellows’ evaluation.  There are 6 other active cornea specialists on the Cornea Service with whom the fellows interact.  In addition, the fellows are involved in staffing the resident Cornea Clinic.  The clinic visits number about 75 per week.

The practices of Corneal Associates and Ophthalmic Partners specialize in corneal transplantation, external disease and contact lens problems.  They are also are actively involved in refractive surgery, primarily with the excimer laser.  There is also an Ocular Cicatricial Pemphigoid Clinic one afternoon a month staffed by Dr. Irving Raber and Dr. Kristin Hammersmith from Cornea, and Drs. Robert Penne and Michael Rabinowitz from OculoPlastics, as well as Dr. JP Dunn from the Uveitis Department.

Corneal Associates and Ophthalmic Partners perform over 350 corneal transplants, including PKs, DSEKs, DMEKs and DALKS, at Wills Eye each year.  Wills has an IntraLase femtosecond laser in our laser suite for IEKs and Intacs.  In addition, many other cornea and anterior segment procedures are performed including secondary intraocular implants (including sutured posterior chamber intraocular lenses), intraocular lens exchanges, anterior segment reconstructions, temporary and permanent keratoprostheses, pterygium/conjunctival tumor excisions and others.  Refractive surgery such as relaxing incisions, compression sutures, astigmatic keratotomies, wedge resections, and radial and astigmatic keratotomies are also performed.  The fellows assist on cases performed by the Corneal Associates and Ophthalmic Partners doctors at Wills and in the Wills Main Line Surgicenter.  By the end of the fellowship, each fellow has typically completed 40-50 corneal transplants from start to finish and has performed parts of 50 to 60 or more other corneal transplants and various other surgical procedures.  Interested fellows can also perform refractive surgery, primarily PRK and LASIK, under supervision of the Corneal Associates and Ophthalmic Partners doctors in the Wills Eye Laser Suite.

The Lions Eye Bank of Delaware Valley provides corneal tissue to the Cornea Service at Wills Eye.  The fellows get firsthand experience in evaluating corneal tissue and spend some time at the Eye Bank.  The Eye Bank also provides the fellows with practice eyes on which to advance their surgical skills and try new techniques.

Clinical research is an important part of the cornea fellowship.  Some time during the week may be provided for research..  Prospective studies involving new medications and therapies are always ongoing.  The Cornea Service has a Humphrey corneal topography analyzer, a Galilei tomographer, Anterior Segment OCT and an ORA unit, and several projects utilize these machines.

The Cornea Service works closely with Dr. Ralph Eagle and the Pathology Department on various projects.  Also, the Cornea Service meets with Dr. Eagle to review interesting pathologic specimens every three months.  A Cornea Journal Club, run by Dr. Hammersmith and the fellows, meets 6 times a year.

Call from home for the Corneal Fellowship is divided by the three clinical fellows on a weekly basis.  At the same time, the Cornea Fellow may also be on call for the Wills Eye Emergency Department.  There, the ophthalmology resident on call will evaluate the patient and call the cornea fellow for advice over the phone or to come in and see the patient.  The fellows also assist the residents in the repair of anterior segment trauma.  The cornea fellow in turn has a Cornea Service staff member on call if needed.  There are occasionally in-patients at any given time, usually with corneal trauma, infection, or post-operative patients.  The fellows follow these patients every morning on rounds with the Cornea staff.

The fellows are expected to present a project at the Wills Eye Annual Conference in the spring, and are encouraged to present their research at ASCRS, ARVO, AAO, The Cornea Society, EBAA, or CLAO meetings.  While the strength of the fellowship lies in the clinical evaluation and management of the large number and variety of cornea and external disease patients (and consequently a sizable and diverse surgical population), there is also an opportunity for a wide variety of research projects.  There is an active immunology and molecular genetics laboratory at Wills Eye.  There is a Thomas Jefferson University Research Center where the animal research facility is housed along with numerous basic science laboratories. 

Cornea fellows may also give talks to the residents or medical students during the year, and teach Jefferson medical students who rotate through the Wills Eye Cornea Service.

We feel our Cornea and External Disease Fellowship is one of the finest in the country.  We are especially happy to be able to offer it in such a friendly, receptive environment.

For information, please contact Katie Whittaker at (215) 928-3172.

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