An Orthoptist is an eye care/health professional who works in partnership with an Opthalmologist (eye Physician and Surgeon). The practice of Orthoptics includes the assessment, evaluation and identification of disorders of vision, binocular vision and ocular motility for the purpose of enhancing or restoring function. Orthoptists also implement and monitor non-surgical treatments.
There are three Clinical Orthoptists and one Orthoptics Instructor working in Saskatchewan. The Instructor has both teaching and administrative responsibilities that are centered on the training program that is run through our department where new Orthoptists are trained. There are only two other training programs within Canada for our profession, making our department quite unique.
The Clinical Orthoptists are responsible for examining designated patients for referring physicians (Pediatric, General, and Neurophthamologists from a large catchment area). Clinical orthoptists also have teaching responsibilities with both enrolled Orthoptic students as well as residents from various disciplines.
Those wishing to become certified Orthoptists are required to have a University degree (BA or BSc) and pass through the application and interview process. Once offered a position in our program (one new student per year is selected), the student will participate in a 24-month training program of which didactic studies and extensive supervised clinical practice form the core. Following successful completion of the 24 month course, the student is eligible to take the national written, oral and practical examinations set by the Canadian Orthoptic Council (COC).
The Orthoptists employed by the Saskatoon Health Region work at the Eye Care Centre located at Saskatoon City Hospital
Patients requiring the services of Orthoptists are those who have eye muscle imbalances (strabismus), amblyopia (decreased visual acuity in one eye), binocular vision disorders, or other problems with ocular motility. Many of our patients are children, due to the nature and age of onset of such conditions as strabismus and amblyopia, but we do also serve adult patients on a regular basis, including many senior citizens.
I really enjoy working with children and their families, and feel fortunate to have the knowledge and skill set to help answer questions and provide information regarding this specialized area of healthcare.
We are required to retain certification with the Canadian Orthoptic Council (COC) by accumulating continuing education credits on an annual basis. Due to the specialized nature of our work, and also due to the fact that we are all actively involved in teaching our own students, medical students, residents, etc., many of the highest quality opportunities to obtain the continuing education required involve travel to other Canadian or American cities to participate in national/international meetings and collaborate with other training centers.
Due to the fact that there are only three places to train to be an Orthoptist within Canada, it is not unheard of for job postings to remain open for a year at a time in some centres. We are fortunate in Saskatoon to have a training program for Orthoptists, and as a result have a regular flow of newly-trained Orthoptists to recruit for job openings in our centre. However, new grads aren’t always inclined to stay in the province, so filling job vacancies can be difficult at times, and having people to fill in casually has also been a problem historically. When staff are sick, on vacation, or away for extended leaves, we often do not have a casual staff to fill in, which results in having to reschedule patients, fewer patients being assessed, and decreased productivity for the Physician (the Orthoptists do a preliminary assessment on nearly every patient that the in-house Pediatric Ophthalmologist sees at the hospital, allowing her to see more patients on a daily basis than if she had to do the entire exam without an Orthoptic work-up).