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Ophthalmic Photography in Switzerland: My First Act with Eyeballs: Part Two

Posted By John C. Peterson, Friday, June 8, 2012
Updated: Friday, June 8, 2012

In my last blog post, I talked a bit about beginning my career in at the University Eye Clinic in Basel, Switzerland. Today’s post is about the work environment there, and the circumstances that led me to jump across the pond, all the way to Madison, Wisconsin:

 Basel is located on the Swiss border to France and Germany and thus qualifies as a true multinational city. On a typical day it was not unusual to hear French, German, Spanish, Italian, Turkish, Czech, Tennessee English and Serbo-Croatian spoken by patients and staff alike. Running to find interpreters for patient photo sessions was a nearly daily occurrence (as I’ve stated before, my language skills stop with German and Swiss-German). I soon learned which cleaning ladies spoke Turkish, and which receptionists could be counted on when no French speakers were within reach.

The work atmosphere in Basel was distinctly Old-World traditional in some ways, and progressive in others. Vestiges of Old School ophthalmology were being phased out during my time there: The inpatient ward, once used for acute surgical cases, including cataracts (!) was replaced with an outpatient surgery center. We received some of the first email addresses ever given out under the University of Basel domain. Administration was eager to take strides into digital media and desktop publishing, and backed it up with generous equipment purchases and by funding meeting attendance to broaden our skills.

Other recollections that have stuck with me: the traveling ocularists, who set up their glass-blowing equipment twice a year, fashioning new prosthetic eyes for a stream of customers; photographing enucleated eyes afflicted by mysterious tropical diseases, routed to our pathology department via the Basel Tropical Institute; being mistaken for a doctor by virtue of wearing a lab coat by every third patient…I gave up correcting them after the first month.

Last but not least: Lunch hours lasted a full hour, and your time away from your work area was respected. Most patients would sit and wait mit Geduld until you returned.

In 1997 I attended the OPS Educational meeting in San Francisco, where I met Michael Neider of the University of Wisconsin. Upon his recommendation I visited Madison a week later and interviewed for the open ophthalmic photographer job. Three months later, I began the new phase of my career. I recently marked my fourteenth anniversary at the Madison clinic.

Why did I give up a good gig in Basel, one of Europe’s finest cities with high marks for quality-of-life, for a job in chilly Wisconsin? More opportunities to progress professionally, a desire to return to my own culture, the excellent reputation of UW, and the cultural attraction of Madison ("the Austin of the North”, as my brother-in-law puts it) all played a role. Do I ever miss the perks of everyday life in Basel: taking lunch down by the Rhine, the superb public transportation, the architectural splendor, and the yearly three-day Fasnacht (Carnival), one of the world’s great outdoor parties? You kiddin’ me? And of course, my good friends (including Phillip, Theres, Marketa, Christian, Peter, Sakine, Dorothe, among others), who were patient and supportive and whom I miss very much.

Has anyone else made a big cultural shift when moving from one job to another? We’d love to hear your thoughts, comments, regrets etc.


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, 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.

Tags:  blog  cute  education  funny  Ice Breakers  Meaningful Use  New Life  PDC  Switzerland  Travel 

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Comments on this post...

Sarah M. Armstrong, CRA, OCT-C, FOPS says...
Posted Tuesday, June 12, 2012
Thank you for sharing your story with us! I would love to see some more images of your time in Basel. Do you have any of the glass blowers making prosthetic eyes?

I have not personally made a cultural shift from one job to another, but I recently spent a few days in Denmark at a meeting with Ophthalmic Imagers. Stay tuned for a future blog....
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Jennifer J. Thomson MFA CRA says...
Posted Monday, June 18, 2012
I enjoyed reading this. Thanks! I would love to hear more around the world stories like this. Jen
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