Teaching the Teachers

Dr. Karl Golnik in Copenhagen at the European Ophthalmology Society meeting.

Photography provided by Dr. Karl Golnik


University of Cincinnati and Cincinnati Eye Institute’s neuro-ophthalmologist Dr. Karl Golnik is on a mission to improve eye health and patient care at home and abroad by training more doctors to serve their communities.

As a neuro-ophthalmologist, Dr. Karl Golnik treats eye conditions by going straight to the source.

“You don’t see with your eyes, you see with your brain,” Dr. Golnik says. “I take care of vision problems that aren’t really eye problems.”

Dr. Golnik treats patients at Cincinnati Eye Institute by addressing vision abnormalities related to disorders generating from the brain, such as a tumor, aneurysm or stroke. As his biography states, neuro-ophthalmology “bridges the gap” between brain-centered practices such as neurology and neurosurgery and the practice of ophthalmology, which addresses disorders of the eye.

Ophthalmologists are often in short supply around the world, too often rendering individuals who suffer treatable eye disorders such as cataracts blind due to ineffective care. Dr. Golnik’s mission is to change that.

CEI recruited him in 1994 and the organization developed an academic services agreement with the University of Cincinnati in 2014 to have Dr. Golnik, a professor and now the chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology, train ophthalmologists to provide better patient care in the area.

The doctor says he has always been interested in education, and the opportunity to serve as both a teacher and doctor proved appealing. He has spent 15 years as the residency program director for the ophthalmology department, earned a master’s degree in education in 2005 and has given invited lectures in more than 45 countries.

He believes in teaching the teachers. “Although medical practitioners know their material as experts in their areas,” he says, “that doesn’t always translate when they have to instruct others.”

Dr. Golnik also grounds his work in the “teach a man to fish” philosophy. As director for education of the International Council of Ophthalmology, he often travels to underserved countries to offer treatments and distribute eyeglasses, but he believes teaching local doctors and medical students how to perform or improve their skill makes more of a lasting impact on eye health and patient care.

Dr. Golnik is currently working on a program with Orbis International, a nonprofit that provides eye care around the world through its Flying Eye Hospital airplane, to improve training and education in seven countries in Central and Southern Africa: Namibia, Malawi, Zambia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda. He will make three trips to the area in September and October.

He’s also led about 40 two-day seminars in nations such as China, India and Brazil for practitioners. The doctors spend time improving their practices and most importantly, leave with the knowledge to lead their own training seminars for doctors in their regions and states.

The need exists worldwide. As countries experience economic growth, their populations have access to more food, and thus, obesity rates increase. This in turn leads to more diabetes and diabetic eye disease which then increases the need for ophthalmologists.

Dr. Golnik is making an impact. The American Academy of Ophthalmology honored him this year with its Lifetime Achievement Award, and in 2016 he received a Gold Award for International Contribution to Chinese Ophthalmology from the Chinese Ophthalmology Society and the Distinguished Service Award from the Pakistani Ophthalmology Society.

“There are so many treatable conditions we can address, we just need to improve the education of the doctors who do it,” he says.


Cincinnati Eye Institute’s main campus is located at 1945 CEI Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45242. For more information, call 513.984.5133 or visit www.cincinnatieye.com.