A clear vision of her future guided Camille Harrison’s career choice. Active in Future Doctors of America as a teenager, she rotated through the specialties while in medical school, tried ophthalmology, and became “intrigued by the complexity of the eye.” But even more important, she says, “I saw that ophthalmologists who’d been practicing 30 years still really loved what they did.”
She chalks that up partly to the people factor. “In ophthalmology, there’s a big office-based component to your practice,” Harrison says. “You see patients for the duration of your career and develop a relationship.”
Harrison’s focus is retinal care — treatment for the tissue lining the inner eye — which also means “there’s an age spectrum to my patients. I like that diversity.” Macular degeneration typically affects seniors, but diabetic eye disease can start young, so “it’s everything from neonatal intensive care to age 70 and up.”
As a field, retinal care itself is young — for Harrison, this is another plus. “When I came out of training, we had advances that weren’t available 20 years before,” she notes. “There’s so much more I can do to preserve vision these days.” Even laser surgery, once cutting-edge, is now replaced by microbiology — “high-tech antibody injections that selectively destroy abnormal vessels,” she explains.
And today’s techniques make surgery far less needed. “Because we’re now so much better at halting advanced disease, 50 to 80 percent of my patients can be treated in office,” Harrison says. Even repairing a detached retina can be minimally invasive, “and we’re using small-gauge ports the size of a blood-draw needle.”
In her practice, too, she’s taken the micro view. After 12 years at Kaiser Permanente in the Bay Area, Harrison left managed care for private practice. The Coachella Valley had no full-time retinal specialist when she moved with her family to Rancho Mirage. “Locals like that I’m locally based,” she says. “They know if there’s an emergency I’m available, because I work five minutes away."
“Patients require time and explanation,” she adds. “When someone has a chronic disease, the more they can understand what is wrong and why it is important to follow their treatment plan, the more they can fully participate in their care. If all my patients leave my office feeling well cared for, that’s what makes me happy at the end of the day.”
VIDEO: A conversation with Dr. Camille Harrison