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An eye-opening job

WOMAN'S INSTINCT
By | July 30th 2011

Beatrice Nyaga, 29, an assistant ophthalmologist at the Aga Khan University Hospital, is among the only four certified and internationally recognised ones in Africa. She spoke to NJOKI CHEGE

Beatrice Nyaga has an interesting job. She is an assistant ophthalmologist and her work is to assist the eye specialist — ophthalmologist — to treat patients with eye problems.

Beatrice explains her call: "Basically, under the guidance of the ophthalmologist, I assess patients’ vision and eye pressure, carry out visual tests, retinal photography and educate patients on their conditions."

Beatrice explains how the non-mydriatic retinal camera works, at the Aga Khan Univerity Hospital.[PHOTOS: MAXWEL AGWANDA]

And it is a lonely field she says: "I have felt loneliness in this career, because we are few. This is an unexplored field in nursing."

Much as eye diseases are a common problem in the country, it is sad that there are few people in her specialty — nurses who assist ophthalmologists — because of there are few medical units that specialise in eye care.

Currently, the only fully-fledged eye units are at the Aga Khan University Hospital and the PCEA Mission, Kikuyu.

While there are a number of practising assistant ophthalmologists, Beatrice is among the only four certified and internationally recognised in Africa.

Rewarding

Her job, which she says is rewarding, has its ups and down.

"My greatest challenge has not only been the loneliness, but that many people do not understand what an ophthalmologist does and end up consulting the wrong professional when they have eye problems,’’ she says.

Most patients, she notes, consult opticians instead of ophthalmologists, thereby complicating their eye problem.

So what is the difference between the two? She explains: "While an optician is a health professional who prescribes glasses, an ophthalmologist assesses, investigates and prescribes the correct medication or glasses to the patients depending on the eye condition. I assist the specialist in discharging his duties."

There are two types of ophthalmic assistants, she explains, those who assist the doctors in the clinics like her, and those who assist in the theatres.

And how did she end up in this deserted profession?

"I always looked forward to the school holidays when my aunt, a nurse at Kenyatta National Hospital, would take me to the wards during her rounds. I just wanted to be associated with patients and see a remarkable progress in their lives," she says with a smile.

This exposure gave her a chance to bond with the patients, comfort them and ‘practise’ nursing.

"When I finished high school, I was not confused when it came to my career choice," she adds.

Satisfying career

And what does it take to be an ophthalmologist?

In September 2003, Beatrice was admitted to Consolata Nkubu School of Nursing in Meru and completed her Diploma in Registered Community Health Nursing in January 2007.

She was immediately posted to Muthale Mission Hospital in Kitui at the maternity ward. She stayed for a year, but soon felt that she was not getting the satisfaction she wanted from her job.

Besides that, the area was too remote, and Internet was a foreign phenomenon, making it even harder to update herself with the latest developments in the world of medicine.

She left for Nairobi to look for a nursing job. She applied at the PCEA Kikuyu Mission Hospital and joined the programme in January 2008.

While at the mission hospital, she was posted to the Ophthalmology department.

And adjusting was no walk in the park: "It was challenging to be in a field that I had little knowledge on, but as the weeks went by, I got more interested and my passion was growing," says Beatrice.

In January 2009, she left the mission hospital to join the ophthalmology department at the Aga Khan University Hospital, Nairobi.

"I took up a six-month course in ophthalmic assistance offered by the Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology, becoming one of the only four certified and internationally recognised ophthalmic assistants in Africa," she offers.

So what does a trip to the ophthalmologist entail?

She says, first, one will be required to go through a visual field test — that assesses their vision and intraocular pressure.

"You might be required to go through retinal photography where the ophthalmic assistant will dilate your eye, take a photo and carry out a pathology — a diagnosis and refer you to the ophthalmologist," she says.

The ophthalmologist will then prescribe the right medication for you, or in some cases they might prescribe laser or minor surgery.

"If the doctor prescribes surgery for you, you will meet an ophthalmic assistant in the theatre who will assist the ophthalmologist in the surgery," she explains.

Beatrice wishes that Kenyans would take their optical health more seriously, but more importantly, know the right kind of eye specialist to consult.

"It is important to take your eyes seriously and go for a check-up at least once a year.

It is saddening when most people seek attention when it is too late and the condition is irreversible. It is heart-wrenching to tell a patient that their condition can only be controlled, but they won’t go back to their normal condition," Beatrice says.

An inflammation

Some of the common eye infections that Beatrice advises Kenyans to look out for include conjunctivitis — an inflammation of the conjunctiva of the eye. Another silent killer of the eye is glaucoma, a painless disease of the major nerve of vision, called the optic nerve.

"Glaucoma quietly and gradually steals your vision and it is usually associated with high eye pressure. Most people are clueless about this disease, hence the need for check-up to nip it in the bud," Beatrice advises.

To keep herself updated on the latest developments in the ophthalmic world, Beatrice and other specialists meet every week for discussions and share experiences.

The cordial working relationship between her and other ophthalmologists has also helped a great deal to answer difficult questions that arise in her line of work.

Beatrice hopes to venture deeper into ophthalmology.

The mother of one hopes to pursue a part-time degree in ophthalmology and is on a search for an appropriate institution.

In the future, Beatrice who is married to Jason Maina wants to share her knowledge and skills with other nurses to raise a generation of informed ophthalmic professionals in the country and Africa.

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