Doctor helped pass legislation elevating optometry in South Africa
Paul Ramkissoon, BOptom, FAAO, MPhil, MOptom, OD, DPhil, Madadeni Hospital, Newcastle, South Africa
Orphaned at age seven, Paul Ramkissoon, OD, FAAO, did not have a typical path to his career. He grew up in children’s homes in South Africa and realized that education was his only ticket out of poverty and the way to establish himself in the world. Dr. Ramkissoon was inspired by a visit to the eye doctor as a child and learning firsthand the difference good vision can make.
After completing his Bachelor of Optometry degree at the University of Durban-Westville (SA) in 1987, he went on to receive a master’s degree before graduating from NECO in 2004, and completed his PhD in South Africa the same year.
Dr. Ramkissoon considers helping to pass Ocular Therapeutics legislation in 2016 as one of the most rewarding events of his career. “This proud milestone in our history has enabled optometrists to play a meaningful role as primary health care practitioners in enhancing patient care and reducing avoidable blindness,” according to Dr. Ramkissoon. The law allows optometrists in SA with post-graduate certificates in Ocular Therapeutics and 600 hours of MD-supervised training to treat eye disease with oral and topical medications.
Dr. Ramkissoon credits NECO’s ASIP program for being a catalyst for progress in international optometry. It exposes students to more challenging clinical experiences and ocular disease management than might be available in their home countries, allowing them to raise the level of optometry when they return.
While at NECO, Dr. Ramkissoon chose rotations in a Dorchester community health center and VA Medical Center in Boston, as well as NECO-affiliated Edendale Hospital in South Africa, to enhance his skills, and sees both the theoretical and clinical training he received as instrumental as he advocates for broadening the scope of optometric care in South Africa.
For Dr. Ramkissoon, international collaboration in optometry is vital to the continued success of the profession. “The world is a global village,” he points out, “so it’s important to keep abreast of optometry all over the world. I’m always interested in cascading positive developments elsewhere to South Africa.” In fact, his motivation behind pursuing a degree from NECO was the desire to expand optometric care in SA to include eye disease.
“The American OD offered an enhanced scope of practice and was viewed as the world’s premier qualification in optometry, with stronger emphasis on ocular disease management,” he says. “What is initiated in the USA has repercussions elsewhere in the world. I wanted to acquire the OD degree and revise one for South Africa.”
A self-described “perpetual student,” Dr. Ramkissoon combines his love of learning with advocacy and caring for patients: in addition to his private practice, he does specialized eye care one morning a week in a hospital, supervises candidates pursuing post-graduate degrees, serves on several boards and committees to advance eye care and expand the scope of optometry in South Africa, publishes and lectures extensively, and, among many other accolades, was awarded the South African Optometric Society’s highest honor, Honorary Life Member, in 2019. Dr. Ramkissoon has the unique distinction of holding all major qualifications offered in optometry, both internationally and in his home country.
Dr. Ramkissoon recognizes that there are challenges to the future of optometry. The profession will have to continuously embrace advances in treatment protocols and technology, and sharing treatment innovations and strategies for legislative progress internationally is critical. “Optometry will be relevant as long as there are leaders willing to champion its cause, and as long as the optometry curriculum and scope are regularly updated,” he asserts. Not only a perpetual student, Dr. Ramkissoon is also a perpetual educator and advocate for the field of optometry.