Illinois College of Optometry affiliates with University of Chicago's Department of Ophthalmology

October 16, 1997

On October 16, 1997, the Illinois College of Optometry (ICO) and the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Science at the University of Chicago held a ceremonial signing of an affiliation agreement that brings together the educational and patient care resources of both teams of eye care providers.

The agreement, only the second of its kind in the United States, brings together faculty from separate, often competing, professions.

This affiliation emphasizes the complementary roles of each profession. It is intended to increase mutual awareness, improve and expand the training of both types of providers, and coordinate and enhance patient care.

"This far-reaching and quite unusual cooperative agreement brings together the disciplines of optometry and ophthalmology in a productive and rational way," said Charles F. Mullen, OD, president of ICO. "Optometry students and residents, medical students, and ophthalmology residents will train side by side, learning a new respect and appreciation for each other's disciplines."

"The best eye care requires cooperation between doctors providing that care at multiple levels," said Terry Ernest, MD, PhD, chairman of Ophthalmology and Visual Science at the University of Chicago. "As technology advances and financial pressures multiply, the optimal system for providing the broad range of eye care has grown beyond the scope of any single provider."

Under this cooperative agreement, which has been in practice since September 1, 1997, University of Chicago faculty will teach and faculty physicians and residents will see patients who may require specialty care at the Illinois Eye Institute, the College of Optometry's clinical facility.

The affiliation will expand training and clinical experience for students in each program. Students from ICO will come to the University for scientific and clinical training.

The two institutions will also create a joint OD/ PhD program, which will prepare optometrists to combine their clinical practice with eye care research.

Optometrists spend four years in optometry school, after college, studying the diagnosis and treatment of common eye diseases. Ophthalmologists spend four years in medical school, followed by another four to six years of specialized training as residents. Students in the OD/PhD program will combine four years of optometry training with three or more years of study of the basic science of vision and complete a substantial research project in their specialty area.

The only similar agreement was arranged between the Pennsylvania College of Optometry (PCO) and Hahnemann University in Philadelphia in 1988. At that time Dr. Mullen was executive director of PCO's Eye Institute.

By combining the strengths of each profession, the Illinois affiliation pulls together a range of providers that is ideally suited for the emerging competitive environment of managed care. Primary eye care will be provided by the ICO's network of optometrists. More complex cases, such as corneal or retinal surgery, will be treated by sub-specialists at the University.

"This arrangement provides the patients of the Illinois Eye Institute and the University of Chicago Hospitals with a closed loop for all eye care needs," added Dr. Mullen, "from routine exams to the most complicated surgical problems."

The combined programs now handle nearly 70,000 patient visits per year, more than 45,000 at ICO and another 20,000, including the most complex cases, at the University.

Both institutions are not-for profit. Each will retain autonomy over its operations and finances.

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