David McCartney MD in the Amarillo Globe-News: "Bills would give rise to empty suits and ‘paper surgeons’"

David L. McCartney MD, — who has practiced ophthalmology for over 30 years in West Texas and graduated with honors from University of Texas Medical School at San Antonio — in his op-ed for the Amarillo Globe-News: 

West Texans deserve to trust that the doctor operating on their eyes successfully graduated from medical school and completed a nationally accredited residency training program under the supervision of physician educators. They trust and expect our lawmakers to keep these educational standards high. Patients should not have to wonder whether their “surgeon” met these high and necessary standards or took an untested second inferior educational pathway.

However, at our Texas Capitol, House Bill 1798 and Senate Bill 1223 would allow thousands of non-physician optometrists to perform more than 100 delicate eye surgeries without sufficient training. The special interests pushing these unnecessary bills claim that optometry school plus a weekend workshop, as dictated by the Texas Optometry Board, is equivalent to the many years that every ophthalmologist spends in rigorous medical and surgical training. To anyone familiar with how surgeons are properly trained, it is a ridiculous and embarrassing proposition.

As a Texas-trained physician and ophthalmologist who has dedicated my career to the proper training of the next generation of EyeMDs, I have some experience with how surgical skills are grown and how long it takes to train extraordinarily bright and talented physicians to perform eye surgery. For over 31 years, it has been my privilege to train nearly 100 ophthalmologists to perform many types of eye surgeries using multiple lasers and various operating microscopes. Virtually all of them went on to pass their board-certifying exams, and many currently practice in Texas.

When our graduates finish, they can make eye surgery look deceptively easy to those ignorant of the fact that it takes years of mentoring them through a comprehensive and graduated curriculum with the aid of high-tech simulators and practice laboratory time. Eventually, they graduate to working hand-in-hand with an experienced teacher/mentor in actual human surgeries. Yet, doing the highly technical surgeries is only part of surgical training; a surgeon must learn when surgery is the best option and when it is not. They must also learn how to handle the potential complications. It takes many hundreds of carefully proctored procedures over 4-6 years after medical school to train safe and competent eye surgeons. There is no faster way – there is no substitute.

Today, our state’s existing collaborative model encourages optometrists and ophthalmologists to work together based on their different training and experience. I work daily, side-by-side, with optometrists I respect and appreciate for their needed role in eye care. This model works.

Unfortunately, these bills would create a faux medical and surgical pathway, with a legislatively propped-up facade that would do nothing but confuse patients. You cannot manufacture qualified physicians and surgeons by mere passage of a law – Texans deserve better.

I believe that the oath all physicians take – “First, Do No Harm” – obligates us to prevent harm when we can do so. Standing up against these bills is the right thing to do and keeps the promise to which I have committed my professional life.

Think of it this way - would you knowingly allow someone without a medical degree or adequate surgical training to operate on your eyes with a knife, scalpel, needle or surgical laser?

If your answer is “NO”, please join us in advocating for Safe Eye Surgery for all Texans by contacting your legislators today to oppose HB 1798 and SB 1223. Tell them there are no shortcuts to safe eye surgery. We invite those who want to perform eye surgery to embark upon the only safe pathway to becoming a qualified EyeMD surgeon – apply to the medical school of your choice today.

These opinions are my own as a concerned citizen and constituent.