An Orbis staff nurse with Eustace, 81, who received cataract surgery during a Flying Eye Hospital project in the Caribbean in 2018. Orbis’s clinical staff and volunteer medical experts along with Alcon bioengineers and trainers began training Monday.
Photo Courtesy of Geoff Oliver Bugbee/Orbis

FORT WORTH, Texas—Orbis International, with generous support from Alcon, kicked off on Monday (Aug. 8) its first in-person training project on board the Flying Eye Hospital—a fully accredited ophthalmic teaching hospital on board a plane—since the pandemic began. Over a two-week period, Orbis's clinical staff and volunteer faculty (medical experts) along with Alcon bioengineers and trainers will share their knowledge with nearly 50 ophthalmologists, ophthalmology residents, nurses and biomedical engineers from several countries throughout the Caribbean, helping them build skills to fight avoidable blindness in their communities.

The participants will hone their skills using cutting-edge ophthalmic surgical simulation training technology on the Flying Eye Hospital, which is currently at Fort Worth Alliance Airport, and additional hands-on training in the Alcon Experience Center (AEC), a state-of-the-art training facility on Alcon's nearby campus. Simulation training allows the visiting eyecare teams to grow their confidence in a training environment before moving on to real-life surgical procedures.

Learning surgical skills for cataract removal will be a major focus of the training. Cataracts remain the leading cause of blindness worldwide despite being treatable with an operation that can take as little as 10 to 15 minutes. Participants will also learn to treat other conditions that threaten vision, including glaucoma, the most common cause of irreversible blindness.

 The Alcon Experience Center in Fort Worth.
A select group of these participants, who are already highly experienced ophthalmologists, will also participate in a train-the-trainer course, which will deepen their ability to train the next generation of eyecare professionals. This helps ensure ongoing continuity of and local access to eyecare in their home countries.

"When the pandemic broke out in March 2020, we had to make the difficult decision to cancel the second half of a training we were delivering in Fort Worth in partnership with Alcon, so we could not think of a more fitting place for the Flying Eye Hospital to return to in-person programming," said Derek Hodkey, president and CEO of Orbis International.

"While the plane has continued its mission virtually over the past two years, this is an unmistakable sign of hope, a chance to pick up where we left off and an opportunity to apply new innovations to our fight against avoidable blindness," Hodkey said.

Alcon, through its charitable donation foundations Alcon Foundation and Alcon Cares, has been a generous supporter of Orbis for over 40 years, providing monetary donations and state-of-the-art ophthalmic equipment, surgical products and supplies for Orbis's Flying Eye Hospital and partner hospitals around the world. Alcon's expert biomedical engineers and trainers also participate in Orbis programs, sharing their skills and knowledge to help program participants learn to operate and maintain critical medical technology.

"Alcon is proud of our more than 40-year partnership with Orbis, as we've worked together to improve volume and access to quality eyecare that benefits underserved populations in communities around the world," said David Endicott, CEO of Alcon. "We are pleased to welcome participating learners to our Fort Worth Alcon Experience Center where they will have hands-on experience with Alcon surgical equipment to build their skills and confidence in eyecare techniques such as Phaco cataract, medical retina and glaucoma procedures."

Globally, Alcon operates 10 AECs along with 26 training centers and 42 wet labs where training is focused on upskilling ophthalmologists and optometrists so that they are proficient in the latest techniques and technologies.

This year, Orbis is also celebrating 40 years since the Flying Eye Hospital took its first flight. Since 1982, three generations of the Flying Eye Hospital have taken training to eyecare teams in over 95 countries around the world.

In 2020, Orbis reimagined in-person Flying Eye Hospital trainings as virtual ones to ensure that eyecare teams could still access critical training safely during the pandemic.

Orbis reached nine countries in 2020 and 34 countries in 2021 through virtual Flying Eye Hospital projects. With the plane now returning to in-person programming, the virtual model Orbis developed is being used in conjunction with in-person training, a concept known as "blended learning," to ensure that participants can maximize the time with their mentors, continue their education after the plane leaves and more.