My ophthalmic photography story begins in 1995, when I was hired by the University Eye Clinic in Basel, Switzerland. I was hired with zero experience in ophthalmology, but a strong general photography and scientific background. I had been working as a freelance photographer up to that point, overworked and underpaid, so I relished the opportunity to prove myself in a new and exciting environment. My wife and young kids welcomed the security of a steady paycheck!
Now, some of you may wonder what a New Englander such as me was doing in Basel in the first place. My wife grew up there, you see, and we had moved back there shortly after getting married…cultural exchange, and all that. Now back to my story…
For the first months on the job I was a fish out of water, gasping for air. Never having worked with eyes or even in a clinical setting before, and with decent but vulnerable Swiss-German skills, every day was a fire hose rush of newness. I made friends quickly and absorbed as much as I could. Fortunately I had excellent teachers, and I rapidly became comfortable at the fundus camera. After a while I felt like a contributing professional rather than a student tag-along.
In 1995 the digital revolution was a few years off, nor had anyone yet heard of OCT. We did film fluoresceins, color fundus photos, external photos (gazes and lids), and slit-lamp photography. We also used an early version of the Heidelberg HRT. I was asked to do publicity photos around the clinic almost from Day One.
We hand-developed all FAs and copied relevant frames onto a second roll of B/W film to make positive slides in our full darkroom. Every Thursday after clinic a group of residents, fellows, and staff ophthalmologists would cram into the photo area for an FA slideshow, ostensibly to dictate the results of the tests and to teach descriptive interpretation but also to joke, discuss, gossip, and argue. It was an electric learning environment that I rarely missed out on.
Great learning opportunities were all around, especially during pre-clinic lectures over coffee on a range of topics, from motility to eye infections to surgical techniques. My favorites were the pathology lectures. I’ve always been a microscope buff, and there’s no better way to learn eye anatomy than by viewing histopathology slides accompanied by the explanations of a first-rate teacher such as Peter Meyer, MD.
A year after I arrived we acquired a Heidelberg "Classic” SLO for our FA/ICG angiography. Because these tests could be dictated right at the camera, the Thursday FA conferences ended, but I still learned a ton sitting next to the resident physician assigned to the photo department, discussing our findings while waiting for the late-phase photos.
Basel is a well-known research institution, with a heavy glaucoma emphasis. I had the privilege of collaborating on several intriguing research projects; the annual Glaucoma Meeting is to this day a Big Deal for the international glaucoma community.
In the next post, I’ll talk about the work environment at the University Eye Clinic in Basel, and why I gave it up for a new department in Madison, Wisconsin.
John C. Peterson, BS, CRA is Director of Ophthalmic Photography Services at the UW Health Eye Clinic in Madison, Wisconsin. He began his career at the University Eye Clinic in Basel, Switzerland. In his spare time he runs a small farm, hunts fossils, dresses up as a pirate, and writes about macro photography at http://www.macro-photography-for-all.com, although not all at the same time. He is currently a candidate for an MBA in IT Management at Western Governors University. Politically, he is against some things and in favor of others.