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New method may simplify eye movement studies

Orthoptist Monica Olsson is one of just five orthoptists who have completed a doctorate in Sweden. Her research has involved children, who are also her patients.

Monica Olsson. Photo: Lisa Thorsén Monica Olsson is at heart an ophthalmic nurse. 

“When I completed my training 30 years ago, the work wasn’t as independent as it is today. I longed to have my own patients and so went back to train as an orthoptist,” she says.

An orthoptist specializes in examinations of how the eyes work together and squints (strabismus) and monitors visual development. Despite working at a children’s eye clinic, she also meets a great many adults with sight problems, for instance double vision. The children who visit the clinic often have a primary disease or syndrome.

Monica Olsson is the fifth orthoptist to complete a doctorate in Sweden. When she first got into research, she thought that she would revolutionise the orthoptist world. However, the research then morphed into ongoing training. Now she enjoys her research role.

“The research has enabled me to learn so much more, and there is always fuel for my curiosity. I never settle for what’s there in front of me, but always want to aim higher," she says, and continues:

“That attitude means I feel very secure not knowing everything the first time I meet a patient.”

A method that requires no machines

Monica Olsson’s research has been conducted with help from her young patients. Put simply, she has evaluated a method called Ocular Motor Score (OMS) that is used to evaluate and monitor different eye movements. Her conclusion is that by using the 15 different tests included in the method, healthcare services can identify oculomotor problems in children with minor neurological impairments, as well as monitor the development of children with more serious neurological disorders.

“OMS is a practical medical method. It’s possible to do a great deal without the need for complex medical devices, which often smaller clinics just don’t have, " Monica Olsson says, and continues:

“Evaluating different eye movements is hugely important. The earlier we can help a child with a condition that affects visual development and the ability to learn to read, for example, the better.”

Just now she is working to develop OMS by producing a manual and making the method more accessible. She is also participating in a major study that examines how vision develops in premature infants. The subjects are now 12 years old.

Lack of vision not an issue

The fact that Monica Olsson chose to become an eye specialist may have to do to some extent with her childhood. Her paternal grandparents were both blind. They met at Tomtebodaskolan, which was a specialist school for pupils with visual impairment, fell in love and had three children.

“My father was the only child with sight. I don’t recall any sadness about my grandparents not being able to see. For them, it was just natural. When my dad’s sister came to visit, it was particularly fun. She had a porcelain eye and it was very exciting. It’s time to put my eye in, she’d shout, and I’d get to watch."

“When I started working, the field of visual impairment was the natural choice. I’m relaxed when I meet my patients. And curious!”

Multiple professional roles enriching

In addition to her clinical work and research, Monica Olsson is the course director for the ophthalmic nurse programme at Karolinska Institutet.

“All three elements complement one another. When I’m teaching, I always have to do my homework.”

Monica Olsson wants to not only teach her students what they need to know on how to peform a task, but also understand why.

“There is plenty of technically advanced equipment for carrying out examinations. But knowing what options there are and understanding results and how they should be interpreted are also vitally important. It’s about always making an effort to master things.

Text and photo: Lisa Thorsén

Name: Monica Olsson
Title: Orthoptist at St. Erik’s paediatric ophthalmology and strabismus clinic, responsible for the ophthalmic nurse programme at Karolinska Institutet, and a researcher.
Motto: Always ask the question ‘What have I learned today?’ Reflection should be an everyday process.

Updated
29 oktober 2019