Events concerning Russia are in the news almost daily…..and not complimentary for the most part.

While I do not consider myself geopolitically savvy, I did have the opportunity to visit Mother Russia twice in 2017. One time for pleasure and the other as an invited speaker at a large conference. During my visits, I learned a bit about the state of eye care in Russia.

Many OD’s who graduated in the 70’s and 80’s will recall the famous ophthalmologist Sergey Fyodorov who popularized radial keratotomy. He influenced a generation of ophthalmologists around the world and created a large cohort of patients requiring specialty contact lenses today. Thank you, Dr. Fyordorov!

All “eye doctors” in Russia are medical doctors of ophthalmology.

Their training is similar to the Western model meaning high school, four years of university, medical school followed by an ophthalmology residency lasting three to four years. Doctors may choose to participate in a fellowship program (e.g. retina, cornea, glaucoma) afterward.

During the ophthalmology residency, the doctor chooses either a surgical or non-surgical track. Doctors who go the non-surgical route many times become contact lens specialists. A few continue with anterior segment surgery, LASIK, etc. as well as specialty contact lenses.

There are no independent colleges of optometry providing a Doctor of Optometry degree in Russia as there are in the United States. Optometric training is more on the level of a technician which the interested student may enter directly from high school. These graduates usually work alongside the MD but may see their own patients on occasion.

One area in which Russian ophthalmology has excelled is orthokeratology.

Ortho-k is widely practiced throughout the country and enjoys the recognition and support of the government. Apparently, the governmental leaders recognized the benefits early on. However, the vast majority of the ortho-k lenses are the manufacturer’s standard designs. Very few ophthalmologists use their own custom designs. There is much interest in the new technologies that enable the doctor to create new parameters and design a lens that is truly unique to fit the special patient. As evidenced by the space program, computer science is also well-developed so this is a field that is poised for expansion as new software becomes available.

Scleral lenses are relatively new to Russia with few practitioners taking advantage of them but interest is growing. I was fortunate to be an invited speaker this fall to the
 “VIII Autumn Refractive Readings Symposium” at the Eye Institute of the Russian Academy of Medical Science in Moscow. One day was devoted exclusively to presentations on scleral lens designs, case studies, complications and building a specialty contact lens practice. Only a few scleral products are available in Russia. Several are imported from Europe and two well-known North American brands are licensed for manufacture in Russia. A third design is expected in the near future. Nonetheless, enthusiasm for fitting these lenses is growing as their many benefits become apparent.

On the other hand, many offices have up-to-date equipment including OCT’s, topographers, tomographers, good quality slit-lamps, etc. Equipment imported from the US and Europe tends to be very expensive so there are a number of Russian brands.

Our Russian colleagues are active learners and regularly attend symposiums within their own country.

Many are held in Moscow, of course, but cities such as Saint Petersburg, Sochi, and Kaliningrad are meeting sites, as well. The annual “White Nights Congress” held in Saint Petersburg in June is very popular. Russians also enjoy traveling and are often seen at Vision by Design, the Global Specialty Lens Symposium, Vision Expo, The Euro Ortho-K and the British Contact Lens Society.

The next time you see them be sure to say a hearty “Здравствуйте!”

(with contributions from Gulnara Andrienko, MD and Alexey Yadykin)