Introducing the new team
“I am excited to join this new venture with Optegra and help lead the clinical team in setting up a safe, efficient and patient-friendly cataract service. I look forward to meeting the needs of the region, improving the patient experience and minimising waiting times for this highly successful surgical intervention.” – Mr Robert Petrarca.
Mr Robert Petrarca is a consultant ophthalmic surgeon specialising in cataract and glaucoma surgery. He has two decades’ experience in eye health, with a background in optometry, having previously worked in primary eye care as an optometrist.
He opted for this field as the most interesting and exciting speciality with high impact on people’s lives, with sight being the most important sense for independent living and enjoyment of life. There was also some family influence, with parents and grandparents having worked in the optical industry.
Mr Petrarca attended Guy’s, King’s and St. Thomas’ Medical School where he graduated with the national Royal College of Ophthalmologists Duke Elder ophthalmology prize.
He was also awarded a funded scholarship for a clinical elective at the Wilmer Eye Institute at John Hopkins University, Baltimore, USA.
His subsequent ophthalmology training included King’s College Hospital and Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Trusts and he became a fellow of the Royal College of Ophthalmologists.
He now holds an NHS post at Epsom and St.Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust and was elected President of the Southern Ophthalmology Society in 2020.
#When asked about highlights of his career to date, Mr Petrarca had a number to cite:
“Establishing the SW London Regional Cataract hub during Covid meant that cataract surgery didn’t stop in this region and so we prevented people losing vision as well as minimising the post-Covid waiting lists at our hospital.
“At my current NHS hospital, I manage the glaucoma service, and am proud to have helped reduce the waiting list to zero as of this week.
“Another highlight is being elected as the Royal College of Ophthalmologists regional representative for Southwest Thames region for the past five years which gives me the opportunity to represent the views and concerns of all ophthalmologists in my region to the Royal College.”
Mr Petrarca has an active interest in new treatments in ophthalmology and has worked with various biotech and pharmaceutical companies during his research. He has also published multiple peer reviewed papers in high ranking international ophthalmology journals, text book chapters and completed several clinical research trials.
He has presented at national and international conferences and is regularly invited to give lectures across the UK to various healthcare professionals.
Outside of work, Mr Petrarca loves to sail in the Solent with his wife and children. He has previously sailed in the Tall Ships Race and Cowes week.
Optometrist Aine Rice PhD BSc MCOptom DipTp(IP), Prof Cert Glauc Higher Cert Glauc
With almost 30 years’ optometry experience, Optegra Eye Clinic Maidstone is delighted to welcome Aine Rice as lead optometrist at the brand-new ophthalmic clinic.
Originally from Northern Ireland, Aine has an extensive career background, working across NHS hospitals, universities and community practice from independents to leading national optometry chains.
She also secured a College of Optometrist scholarship to do a PhD at the University of Bradford, where she investigated the genetic basis of strabismus (turning eye). This was followed by a fellowship with The Leeds Teaching Hospitals and it was during this period that she became particularly interested in cornea and refractive surgery.
Aine describes herself as someone who has always been interested in science, ever since school days and following work experience at the local optical practice, optometry seemed the ideal opportunity to combine that with healthcare. “I love the interaction with patients, to help them understand the most suitable treatment, and make recommendations following a definitive treatment pathway, to assist that person and truly improve their quality of life.”
As she takes the next step in her career, to work at the Optegra clinic, she says: “I am really looking forward to working in a bespoke environment totally committed to ophthalmology. For many years I have worked in clinics or hospitals with so much else going on, but here, every team member is dedicated to eye health and we all know our roles and have the same agenda.
“There is so much demand for cataract surgery, it makes such sense to have a dedicated clinic where everyone knows what needs to be done so we can help free up NHS hospital space and enable more and more patients to be treated earlier.”
Aine, who has lived and worked in Kent for many years, enjoys running, as well as theatre, books and time with family – especially visiting her home of Ireland.
Clinic Manager, Ibrahim Toma
Ibrahim Toma is a familiar face within Optegra eye hospital group, having worked with the company for over two and a half years, briefly as a healthcare technician and then promptly asked to step up to an Outpatient Lead role at the central London flagship hospital. He also worked for a year at the Surrey hospital and is now stepping up again, to become Clinic Manager for the brand new Optegra Eye Clinic Maidstone.
Ibrahim has worked in the ophthalmic world since university, when he joined Moorfields. He soon became fascinated with eyes, both through his clinical work and through his personal vision transformation following his own laser eye surgery.
He particularly enjoys patient care and says, “helping to improve a person’s quality of life is fantastic, however, the thing I find particularly rewarding is uplifting my team and helping them to develop.”
Excited to join the team in Maidstone, he sees this as a unique experience in getting to start up a team completely from scratch and watching them grow along with the site and services.
A challenge during his career was to replace someone who had been in the role for around 12 years: “I was told I had very big boots to fill, however, through confidence, self-belief and a willingness and openness to learn from the team I was coming in to manage, I was able to navigate this well and keep everyone on board. These are skills that I am confident will boost my work at Maidstone also.”
In his free time, Ibrahim loves to spend a lot of time outdoors in the wilderness, trekking and exploring new areas, which he finds very grounding and humbling. His favourite holidays are therefore in woodland, forestry or near the coast.
He also enjoys playing squash and a few other sports. And over the past year, has found a new hobby, inspired by the Great British Bake Off: “That has sparked this newfound love for baking in me, I’m not too shabby if I may say so myself!”