Redefining optometry in Saudi Arabia and beyond
Ali Bukhamseen, BASc in Optometry, OD, EMBA, Senior Optometrist, Johns Hopkins Aramco Healthcare, Eye Clinic, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
In 2001, Dr. Ali Bukhamseen, OD ’04, together with his wife and daughter, embarked on a journey to Boston, Massachusetts. For three years, he’d served as chief of optometry at the King Khaled Eye Specialist Hospital in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, “where you can find the most challenging cases,” he says. He’d been accepted into the New England College of Optometry to earn his Doctor of Optometry degree.
He wanted to both improve his practice and be part of elevating optometry in his country.
“If you look at optometry in Saudi Arabia 20 years ago, we’ve made a big jump,” Dr. Bukhamseen says of educational and licensing standards. “This improvement would not have happened without the hard work of optometry schools, optometric associations, the Ministry of Health, the Saudi Commission for Health Specialties, and Saudi optometrists who practice optometry on a daily basis. Still, we have limited privileges compared to the industrialized world. I realized I should take my clinical skills to a higher level.”
Dr. Bukhamseen came to NECO in September 2001. This was not an easy time to come to the USA, as the 9/11 tragedy had just occurred. “I remember coming through Logan Airport and that was a difficult time,” he recalls. “The college registrar called me in and offered me full support in case something happened.” The NECO community welcomed the doctor, and he set out on the intensive ASIP program, including a full year of clinical rotations. At his request, and with the college’s support, he extended his studies over three years, graduating with his OD in 2004.
His NECO experience “changed my perspective on optometry in a positive way,” he says. “I saw optometry from a different angle and through a wider scope. I realized, for the first time, how big an optometric contribution could be to global health care. My time at NECO turned my little dreams into bigger achievements,” he says. “Then, I raised the bar.”
Focus on Improved Patient Care
Dr. Bukhamseen brought his knowledge of US optometric practice to patient care and clinic management in Saudi Arabia. He served in multiple hospitals, setting up low-vision clinics and managing services for adults and children with visual impairment, including those affected by ocular disease, traumatic brain injury, and stroke. He became expert in fitting hard and soft contact lenses for challenging cases such as keratoconus, pellucid marginal degeneration, high corneal astigmatism, presbyopia, and pediatric aphakia.
As senior optometrist at Johns Hopkins Aramco Healthcare Eye Clinic in Dhahran, he now leads pediatric optometry, treating children with amblyopia and motor-sensory binocular problem with optical correction, prisms, and vision therapy.
He’s also working to prevent and treat childhood myopia, which has become a global epidemic. “More than 80 percent of children who visit the eye clinic complain of blurry vision caused by refractive error such as myopia,” he says. “Kids are using electronic monitors, tablets, laptops for hours and hours daily. The pandemic made this worse when the entire world switched their educational system online.”
Dr. Bukhamseen envisions diagnostic tools such as artificial intelligence (AI) and optical coherence tomography (OCT) playing a greater role in patient care. “As an international community of vision care providers, we should expand our care to reach more people who need our service in poor countries,” he says. “We should think about how to use today’s technology to reach people who live in difficult places and provide and sustain the care needed.”
His experience at NECO inspired Dr. Bukhamseen to become an advocate for improved optometric practice on a global scale. He founded the Eastern Mediterranean Council of Optometry (EMCO), a regional representative for the World Council of Optometry (WCO), recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO). He’s also a fellow with both the American Academy of Optometry and the International Association of Contact Lens Educators.
“I believe the best way to advance the mission of eye-care clinicians is to standardize the education and legislation of optometry practice globally,” he says. “One of the best benefits I gained from NECO was exposure to other optometrists from everywhere in this world. Together, we can exchange experiences, liberalize our professional thinking, and read from the same page—to map out the future.”