As the director of pediatric ophthalmology and Akron Children’s new vision center, Richard Hertle, MD, is creating a complete medical home for children’s eye care needs, assembling a 15 to 20 member team that will include ophthalmologists, optometrists, researchers, residents, fellows and specialized technicians, as well as support staff.
“We will be able to provide the full range of service, from oncology care to a child who just needs glasses,” said Dr. Hertle. “They will not need to go anywhere else.”
Dr. Hertle succeeds Robert Burnstine, MD, who is stepping down from his administrative role, but will continue to see patients and remain active with his teaching and research activities.
Dr. Hertle said that he looks forward to working with Drs. Burnstine and (Tony) Locastro, as well as other physicians affiliated with Akron Children’s. He believes a children’s hospital, rather than a specialized eye care center, is the ideal place to create a world-class pediatric ophthalmology program.
“A facility that is designed for kids, that is dedicated to them and their families, creates an environment that is different than that offered by a center that also treats adults,” said Dr. Hertle. “Everyone and everything, from the lab and radiology technicians to the nurses and physicians, as well as the physical environment, is completely focused on the care and comfort of kids.”
This type of environment makes families more likely to follow therapeutic recommendations and return for follow-up appointments.
"Higher comfort levels lead to better adherence, recovery and success,” said Dr. Hertle. “Our work is just more effective.”
In addition to excellent patient service, Dr. Hertle sees research and education as equally important pillars to the new center.
Dr. Hertle is one of the nation’s leading investigators in the area of nystagmus and eye movement disorders. He also brings strong research interests that include nystagmus, strabismus and amblyopia, which will be actively investigated by the department. It will also participate in multicenter trials of retinopathy of prematurity, amblyopia, myopia and glaucoma.
Dr. Hertle has been principal investigator on several research projects funded by the National Institutes of Health and has been the recipient of more than $1 million of research funding.
He believes medical research is best done by a full-time researcher, and so he has also brought along University of Pittsburgh colleague Dongsheng Yang, MD, PhD.
“As an independent researcher, Dr. Yang will be a crucial part of our team,” Dr. Hertle said.
Dr. Yang’s work looks at how the brain controls the eyes. He and Dr. Hertle are studying infants and children with binocular visual disorders, such as strabismus. Dr. Yang will assist with staff research projects, help develop methods and procedures for complex scientific equipment, supervise data collection and analyses for research projects requiring independent interpretation, and help supervise staff, students, residents and fellows.
Equal to Dr. Hertle’s passion for research is his passion for educating the next generation of pediatric ophthalmologists. He has more than 20 years of experience as an educator, and he has already created a pediatric ophthalmology fellowship at Akron Children’s. The fellowship has been approved by the American Association of Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus.
“There is enormous satisfaction to be gained from correcting visual system problems early in a child’s life, and I want to share that with others,” he said. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without mentoring.”
According to Dr. Hertle, fellowship-trained pediatric ophthalmologists are urgently needed in the United States.
“This is a specialty area that is consistently understaffed. We need to encourage more physicians to pursue it is their life’s work,” said Dr. Hertle.
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