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Business & Profession Cataract, Refractive, Other

Do Ophthalmologists Undergo LASIK?

At a Glance

  • Laser refractive surgery has been around for over two decades and (like any other technology) it has become safer and more predictable over this period
  • Refractive surgeons recommend this surgery to their patients all the time, and some surgeons (including myself) undergo it themselves, but would they recommend it to close family and friends?
  • A recent survey found that over half of refractive surgeons had already had a procedure on their own eyes, and over 90 percent would recommend it to friends and family
  • The fact that so many refractive surgeons use and recommend it goes to show how far it has come.
A young Greg Parkhurst, before he underwent laser vision correction and retired his glasses.

As ophthalmologists, we’ve been performing laser refractive surgery for a very long time. The first excimer laser gained FDA approval for photorefractive keratotomy in 1995, and since then these technologies and procedures have come a long way – by comparison, just think about what cars and mobile phones looked like in the early 1990s compared with what they’re like today. LASIK has essentially been around since the Berlin Wall fell, and the last days of Ronald Reagan’s presidency! Laser vision correction (LVC) has more than proven itself as having effectively passed the test of time, and has been proven extremely safe and accurate in countless peer reviewed publications, when performed on appropriate candidates. And patients agree – a meta-analysis of the literature shows that an average of 95.4 percent of patients are satisfied with the results of LASIK surgery (1).

But would you, as an ophthalmologist, undergo this procedure yourself? Would you recommend it for your partner, your children or your parents? As someone with a personal and professional interest in the subject, my co-authors and I decided to find out more about LVC amongst my peers…

Game-changing surgery

As refractive surgeons, we’ve had the honor of providing people with vision correction from almost every background and profession. We’ve helped teachers, firefighters, quadriplegics, musicians, attorneys, accountants, engineers, nurses, pilots, astronauts, divers, mountain climbers, radiologists, professional athletes – the list goes on and on. The results can be a serious game-changer for our patients – according to Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Maverick’s NBA basketball franchise, having LASIK is not much different than taking performance enhancing drugs to gain an advantage on the court!

I think the Dublin-based Arthur Cummings of the Refractive Surgery Alliance put it the right way: “You keep on seeing great, life-changing result after great, life-changing result and eventually you want it for yourself too. And your nearest and dearest.”

Two years ago, I had the privilege of performing LASIK for my mother, and just last year, I performed femto cataract surgery with multifocal IOLs for my dad!
Leading by example

I remember vividly what a life of myopia was like before my own LVC procedure back in 2003. Going water skiing meant worrying about the potential of my glasses sinking to the bottom of the lake. Playing basketball often meant a contact lens popping out on the court. I really hated having to wear glasses, and I recognized how much money I was wasting on contacts and back-up glasses, so I planned to have my vision corrected as soon as I could. Now, when I travel for humanitarian cataract missions, I don’t have to worry about the risks of wearing contacts in environments where the water may not be clean. It helps me as a surgeon to see as best as I can and not have to worry about glasses getting dirty, sweaty, broken, or simply in the way.

LVC has changed my life and my patients’ lives in a transformative way. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself and my family.  Two years ago, I had the privilege of performing LASIK for my mother, and just last year, I performed femto cataract surgery with multifocal IOLs for my dad. My wife has had Visian ICLs for over 5 years now. These procedures have good safety and performance, and have improved the lifestyles of my entire family.

By now, I’ve almost started to take my great vision for granted. It wasn’t that way initially. I remember waking up in the morning and reaching for the nightstand to put my glasses on, only to realize with utter amazement that what I was reaching for wasn’t needed anymore!

Asking the experts

My own experiences made me wonder about what the wider acceptance of LASIK was in my field – we’ve all heard anecdotes about refractive surgeons healing themselves through LASIK. But there’s conflicting information on how ophthalmologists truly feel about the subject. There has been some misinformation reported in the lay media that “LASIK is one procedure ophthalmologists won’t have themselves”, but no study had documented the incidence of our profession undergoing the procedure in a formal, scientific way. As the experts who know all about the risks, and benefits, of these procedures, are we willing to undergo them, and are we willing to recommend them to our own flesh and blood?

We decided to look more closely – last year, my colleagues and I published a study in the Journal of Cataract and Refractive Surgery. We used a 22 question survey to assess the attitudes of ophthalmologists who have performed LVC in the last ten years, to see how many had undergone LVC themselves, and how many would be willing to recommend it to immediate family members (2).

The results were very interesting – 62.5 percent of refractive surgeons with refractive error amenable to treatment have already had laser vision correction, and 95 percent are completely, or at least mostly, satisfied with their outcomes. This level of acceptance is around five times the prevalence of refractive surgery in the general population, far surpassing any other profession with the possible exception of the military. We also found that the vast majority (over 90 percent) of the refractive surgeons we surveyed have performed or recommended LVC to one or more of their parents, spouses, siblings, and/or children.

Our results are based on a prospective, protocol driven study that randomly sampled 250 known refractive surgeons using an online questionnaire, with a high level of participation, (249/250 ophthalmologists, [99.6 percent] participated). In my opinion this high response rate makes the study extremely reliable, in part because the study population was defined before questions were presented, effectively eliminating response bias.

Time to rethink self-LASIK?

So for patients, doctors, or ophthalmologists in any other ophthalmic subspecialty wondering whether it is time to close the book on any safety concerns they have about committing to refractive surgery, either for themselves, their families, or their friends, I can think of no stronger endorsement than the results we found. Our study puts the myth that ophthalmologists don’t trust LASIK to rest, finding that they undergo the procedure much more frequently than nearly any other profession! And surely there is nothing more reassuring than getting LVC from an ophthalmologist who was so confident in the safety and success of the procedure, that he underwent it himself?

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  1. KD Solomon et al., “LASIK world literature review: quality of life and patient satisfaction”, Ophthalmology, 116, 691–701 (2009). PMID: 19344821.
  2. GM Kezirian et al., “Prevalence of laser vision correction in ophthalmologists who perform refractive surgery”, J Cataract Refract Surg, 41, 1826–1832 (2015). PMID: 26603390.

About the Author

Gregory D. Parkhurst

Medical Director of Parkhurst NuVision in San Antonio, Texas, USA. He serves on the Medical Advisory Board for Ocular Innovations, Inc. He is an investigator for CORD and AcuFocus, and a consultant for J&J and Alcon.

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