Wills Eye marks 175-year milestone

January 1, 2010

With this issue of Ophthalmology Times, the publication launches a new series that will feature different institutions around the country.

Editor's Note: With this issue of Ophthalmology Times, the publication launches a new series about Clinical Centers of Excellence. Periodically through the year, a different institution will be featured. The purpose of the series is to recognize those institutions that bring something extra to the specialty, whether through research, patient care, or community outreach. Institutions profiled in the series are not ranked relative to each other; rather, the intent is to explain what makes each one unique.

The centers highlighted in the series are chosen based on past performances in Ophthalmology Times' annual Best Programs survey. Centers are asked to report data and related information, which are verified whenever possible.

"We are looking to the future through the lens of history," said Julia A. Haller, MD, ophthalmologist-in-chief at Wills Eye, and chairwoman of the ophthalmology department at Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University. "How you plan strategically is informed by the lessons and tradition of the past."

Founded in 1832 through a bequest of Quaker merchant James Wills to the city of Philadelphia, Wills Eye Institute began as a 70-bed specialty hospital that helped to establish ophthalmology as a separate branch of medicine. Today, it features nine subspecialty areas in addition to its Cataract and Primary Eye Care Service.

That sense of history is propelling the center to new levels of excellence and compassionate care, as emerging technology has led Wills to expand by building new diagnostic and laser refractive surgery centers. The institute has consistently ranked among the top three programs in the Ophthalmology Times annual Best Programs survey, and since 2007 it has taken third place as the best overall program and second for best clinical care and best residency program.

"We get more requests for electives [rotations] [to] Wills from medical students all over the world than we can possibly accommodate," Dr. Haller said.

In an effort to meet that need, the program is taking the educational experience and putting it online. At http://www.willseyeonline.org/, the Wills Knowledge Portal allows residents to view free surgical videos, online lectures, and an actual chief's rounds, and physicians can pay for and earn continuing medical education credits in an easy-to-use format.

"We're very excited about that because we think that's a great resource," she added. "It builds on the thing that Wills is known for worldwide, and that is patient care."

That care extends to most ophthalmologists, who likely own a copy of "The Wills Eye Manual: Office and Emergency Room Diagnosis and Treatment of Eye Disease," a comprehensive reference book written by Wills residents. Now in its fifth edition, the manual is a guide for clinicians, complete with color photographs, and descriptions of symptoms, and treatments.