By Jullian Cerasuolo, OD
As optometrists, we dedicate our lives to caring for others and making certain that our patients are seeing well. Instilling dilating drops to open the window into our patients’ systemic health creates a responsibility to educate them and manage any disease accordingly. Although the authority to care for patients and improve their vision sparks incredible joy and autonomy, what we may not realize is that there are multiple methods to serve patients, even if we’re not interacting with them daily. Taking on opportunities to reach patients on a larger scale and in an entirely novel manner can be incredibly rewarding, which piqued my interest to consider a career in ophthalmic clinical research.
From my experience as a practicing optometrist, I’ve grasped that clinical research opportunities are not widely recognized as an alternative care option for patients. In some cases, like early or late-stage age-related macular degeneration (AMD), there are no current viable treatments. So, the opportunity for a patient to potentially participate in a clinical trial may improve their vision and therefore their quality of life. Seeing several patients with AMD myself, it was incredibly difficult for me to discuss with a patient that there is no cure for their ocular disease and monitoring its progression is all we can do. I constantly strive to provide therapeutic options for my patients and do everything I can to help them. Even in cases of anterior segment disease, like dry eye disease (DED) and allergic conjunctivitis, many therapeutic options on the market currently do not provide optimal relief from the often-debilitating signs and symptoms these conditions can give rise to. Therefore, a career in ophthalmology clinical research became incredibly important to me where I can contribute to bringing potentially life and vision-changing therapies to patients.
Patient-centric care can include indirect methods of bettering the lives of patients, whether in clinical practice or in ophthalmology research studies. For me, it is just as rewarding as seeing patients in my exam chair every single day. As female eye care providers, we can all make an immense impact in a patient’s life in various but equally recognizable manners.
In my role at Ora, Inc., as part of the medical writing and marketing team, I create ocular disease education pages for the company’s patient-facing website and produce marketing campaigns for both anterior and posterior segment, as well as medical device clinical trials. By executing this important work, I feel I am reaching patients on a vaster scale to educate them on their ocular disease process and providing education on clinical trial enrollment as a potential care option. Soon, I will also be taking on patient advocacy initiatives at the company, including patient testimonials on their experience in ophthalmic clinical research trials. This upcoming project is of utmost importance to improve the patient experience in clinical studies and make certain that patients feel that they are in control of their health.
As a result of my experience in both clinical practice and research, I have been and will continually be moving forward in all endeavors with patients at the top of my mind. I have utilized my experience and knowledge in patient care to contribute to strategies for patient recruitment and education, discussions with site investigators on enrollment, and determining how to make the clinical trial experience more patient-centric. I consistently want to ensure that the patient voice is heard and that clinical trial participants are involved in shaping the future of ophthalmic clinical research.
Like patient education in the exam room, I believe it is essential for potential and current clinical research participants to be thoroughly educated on their disease process, including how we diagnose it, current FDA-approved therapies, and how this disease may affect their vision and life. Taking this time builds trust with their eye care provider and empowers patients to have the knowledge to advocate for themselves.
To make certain that patients are the primary focus in ophthalmic clinical research, patient panels can empower participants to discuss their experiences in clinical research, including the benefits, but also elaborating on how the process can evolve to be more patient friendly.
The ability to care for patients can be expressed and provided in so many unique ways and with this in mind, career expansion outside of patient care can be a phenomenal option for optometrists who are looking for additional challenges, a different working environment, and more schedule flexibility. I have been incredibly excited to take on duties at an ophthalmology drug and device development firm and make an impact in patients’ lives in an entirely novel manner.
Jullian Cerasuolo, OD is the Medical Writer & Content Copywriter at Ora, Inc., which is a full-service ophthalmic drug and device development firm.