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Winter 2021

Q & A WITH DR HARTHAN

WRITTEN BY:

Nora Matland

Few areas of optometry are growing as quickly as the field of Cornea and Contact Lenses. This is, in part, because of the rise of corneal diseases, but also because of the rapid advances in treatments over the past decade. The service that Dr. Jennifer Harthan and the Cornea and Contact Lens team provides is essential to their patients ability to see. Below she discusses advances in research and the importance of contact lenses as medical devices.

What made you interested in Cornea and Contact Lenses?

I always knew I wanted to do a residency. It came down to pursuing pediatrics or contact lenses. 

During my fourth-year rotations, I began to understand the impact contact lenses can have. When you treat someone who can’t see anything because of a corneal disease, when you provide them with a lens developed specifically for them, and they have that moment, that “wow” moment, and they are either speechless or they start crying — there’s absolutely nothing like it for me. To have had that experience both as a student and then again as a resident, that solidified my commitment to Cornea and Contact Lenses.

What excites you most about optometry and your specific field in optometry?

There are so many procedures and treatments that we have access to today that were not possible even just a couple of years ago. We can map out the entire shape of the cornea and sclera. We have fitting software that can customize a lens to fit our patient’s ocular surface perfectly. We are seeing an increase in the amount of myopia management treatment options. It’s an exciting time to be in Cornea and Contact Lenses.

There is a strong collaboration between practitioners and industry leaders to advance these treatments for the essential well-being of our patients. We work together to advance our research. Because of our commitment, we have a much better understanding of myopia management, ocular surface disease, and specialty contact lenses.

What is one thing most people don’t know about your specific field in optometry?

Contact lenses do so much more than correct someone’s vision. They are medical devices. They are utilized to optimize health, and treat disease. We also need to recognize that the use of medical devices can lead to complications if not managed properly. 

However, in many cases, a specialty contact lens is the best option for patients. Lenses can delay surgery. Lenses won’t cure these patients, but they can mitigate symptoms and can improve the quality of life for patients.

What has changed since your time at ICO and what has remained the same?

We are doing more co-management with corneal ophthalmologists. We are fortunate to have strong relationships with University of Chicago, University of Illinois Chicago, and Illinois Masonic. They are supportive of optometry, and it has been a great collaboration for everyone. We prioritize the wellbeing of the patient and collaboratively figure out the best treatment for the patient. The technology advancements and types of contact lenses that we are able to fit have also changed. We have more lens options than ever before.

We have built a strong patient base because of our referrals. We commit to giving our patients the best care possible, and in turn, we provide excellent clinical exposure to our students. There are few optometry schools that will provide such a huge array of patient cases as we do here in the IEI. That has remained the same and is still what makes ICO unique.

The quality and excellence in education and our commitment to the Bronzeville community has also remained the same. We prepare students to be well-rounded clinicians.

Dr. Harthan with student

"It’s important to be a lifelong learner and to continue to help move the profession forward and to advocate for patients."

Dr. Harthan

What is one thing you would like incoming optometry students to know about the profession?

It’s important to be a lifelong learner and to continue to help move the profession forward and to advocate for patients. What you put into this profession is what you will get out of it. 

Cornea and contact lenses will be an important part of the curriculum. In fact, because of how many patients we see in the clinic, students have classes much earlier. Previously students didn’t have a rotation with us in their third year, now there is an entire quarter dedicated to contact lenses. The rotation might just be an introductory glimpse, but it demonstrates how important cornea and contact lenses are. In fact, we’ve expanded so much that we had to move spaces!

I also want students to know what a collaborative profession they are joining. The amazing colleagues that I collaborate with at ICO and externally continue to inspire me and make me want to be a better clinician, researcher and educator everyday. The cornea and contact lens community is a passionate group, and we are constantly trying to propel the field forward to determine how to best treat our patients.