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As your nurse practitioner (NP) community, it is both important and exciting for the American Association of Nurse Practitioners® (AANP) to share positive news about the NP role. This includes the recent data showing the ranks of NPs grew by 8.5% from 2022 to 2023, and that NPs were dubbed the “Best Job That Helps People” by U.S. News & World Report in March of last year.
The NP role is growing, and NPs are responding to gaps in access to health care with a holistic, person-centered approach. The need for more NPs to enter diverse specialties continues, and the AANP Communities are growing to reflect this positive change. NPs who choose an emerging specialty can help grow the scholarship and understanding of their focus, all while experiencing the joy of becoming a mentor or mentee (and possibly both).
One of the newest AANP Communities, Ophthalmology, presents such advantages to NPs. Learn more about ophthalmology thanks to insights provided by AANP Ophthalmology Community Co-chair Tulay Cakiner-Egilmez, NP-C, PhD, CRNO, COMT, and find out — especially for new NPs curious about the specialty — what makes ophthalmology so exciting right now.
Cakiner-Egilmez is currently based in Massachusetts, but her journey as a NP began in Turkey, where she grew up. After completing her Bachelor of Science in Nursing in her home country, she was hired to work at the eye clinic in Istanbul Leprosy Hospital. Leprosy can cause skin and nerve damage as well as eye problems leading to blindness, so the hospital director believed that hiring a nurse could help prevent blindness in patients with eye problems. To assist patients with leprosy, Cakiner-Egilmez traveled to Louisiana in 1985 to train in leprosy and ophthalmology. Cakiner-Egilmez received training at the Hansen’s Disease Center ophthalmology clinic in Carville, Louisiana. During her training, she learned how to detect early symptoms and signs of ocular leprosy using a slit lamp and how to prevent blindness through proper management. After returning to Turkey, she assisted an ophthalmologist at the hospital for 15 years, examining patients and identifying problems in the eyes of leprosy patients, which made her very confident. She later married, moved to the United States, and worked at the Boston VA Ophthalmology Department.
In her biography on the AANP Ophthalmology Community website, Cakiner-Egilmez writes that “ophthalmology is very demanding.” When asked to elaborate, she notes that “detecting abnormalities in the eye can be challenging due to its small and complex nature. Specialized examination techniques and imaging modalities are necessary to identify eye conditions. Even using a well-established slit lamp and fundus exam to detect primary eye conditions may be challenging due to a lack of ophthalmology training in NP programs or the nonexistence of post-graduation programs.”
Ophthalmology as a specialty for NPs is growing, but it still lacks the foundation that more established specialties have. “As an NP in ophthalmology, I find it exciting that more ophthalmologists are now hiring NPs compared to 5-10 years ago. However, the lack of formal eye training remains one of the biggest challenges for NPs. There are practice barriers that limit NPs from performing eye exams and treating eye diseases in certain states,” continues Cakiner-Egilmez. “Despite these challenges, NPs are a valuable resource for improving care quality and patient satisfaction in ophthalmology. It is crucial to develop formal educational training in the NP curriculum or post-graduation programs leading to a specialty certification to enhance the productivity and efficiency of NPs.”
According to Cakiner-Egilmez, ophthalmology is “currently a very promising surgical subspecialty. Due to the aging population, many patients require immediate care to improve vision and quality of care.” She continues: “However, there are approximately 19,000 ophthalmologists who need help to keep up with the growing number of eye patients, resulting in long wait times and vision loss. NPs can assist ophthalmologists in seeing more patients with excellent efficiency and patient satisfaction.” As more and more NPs decide to enter ophthalmology, Cakiner-Egilmez hopes that they will turn to her community. She wants new NPs in ophthalmology to know that they are not alone.
The AANP Ophthalmology Community is designed for NPs to share educational materials and discuss diseases and treatment guidelines, practice issues and opportunities for professional growth. In less than two years, the community has made significant progress, with nearly 50 NPs having joined. Cakiner-Egilmez is optimistic that more NPs will join and contribute to the community.