Southbank eye doctor James La Nauze honoured by Australia Day award

Southbank eye doctor James La Nauze honoured by Australia Day award
Brendan Rees

A dedicated eye doctor of Southbank whose work has seen him help rural communities and restore sight to people in disadvantaged countries has been recognised with an Australia Day honour.

Dr James La Nauze, whose career in ophthalmology spans more than four decades, was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for his services to ophthalmology and not-for-profit organisations.

Originally from Albury-Wodonga, he spent 20 years bringing about sight-saving and life-changing interventions to regional New South Wales and Victoria before returning to Melbourne where he has consulted at the Vision Eye Institute Footscray for the past two decades.

Among his professional roles, Dr La Nauze was also a board member of the Fred Hollows Foundation (2010-19), a not-for-profit aid organisation dedicated to combating preventable blindness and other vision problems.

He led clinical teams in Vietnam, Cambodia, China, and Nepal in what he described as an “attempt deal with the cataract backlog in developing countries.”

“Taking the bandages off … suddenly going from blindness to seeing is quite a miracle, but it doesn’t make us the miracle makers, it’s just a technical thing for us,” he said.

“You don’t do it for that feeling, you do it because it needs to be done.”

“It does drive change, and drive wants you to make sure other people have got those skills to help their own communities … the whole mantra of Hollows is not to do the work, but to teach others to do the work.”

Dr La Nauze said he met Fred Hollows in NSW while a trainee in the 1970s when Mr Hollows was undertaking the seminal National Trachoma and Eye Health Program (NT&EHP).

“Fred was an icon to the younger generation of ophthalmologists. He was committed to social justice especially for indigenous Australians and was a role model for many of us,” Dr La Nauze said.

“As a consequence of the NT&EHP, field trips were undertaken to remote parts of Queensland where there had never been ophthalmic care.”

“What I and others learnt was that the major eye problems looming in these places was not trachoma but diabetic retinopathy – young people as well as older going blind as a result of having no service to treat the conditions.”

Such experiences later led Dr La Nauze to establish the first rural registrar rotation in Australia in 1988, a program set up to expose trainee ophthalmologists to the rural lifestyle while also undertaking technical training.

The program, which is still running today, allows trainees to work in clinics rather than hospitals, giving them more exposure to patients, supervising doctors and the issues in running an ophthalmic practice – which Dr La Nauze said had become a “model throughout Australia”, an achievement of which he was proud.

Another achievement included Dr La Nauze establishing the first Australian regional eye clinic for visual assessment at the Woodstock Centre for Developmental Disabilities.

Upon receiving the Australia Day honour, Dr La Nauze was humbled, saying “it’s nice to be recognised.”

“I guess I have done some things in life which I think probably gives more importance to the work than the individual,” he said •

Dr James La Nauze has been awarded a Member of the Order of Australia (AM).

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