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Moran Alumni Profile: A Conversation with Jane Durcan, MD

Jane Durcan, MD, right, examines a patient during a 2014 outreach trip in Guatemala.
Jane Durcan, MD, right, examines a patient during a 2014 outreach trip in Guatemala.

One of Moran’s earliest residents, Jane Durcan, MD, eventually returned as a faculty member specializing in glaucoma—a position she calls a "dream job." She later moved into private practice in Spokane, Washington. Durcan has since retired, but her devotion to Moran’s outreach work continues.

What led you to choose the Moran Eye Center for your residency?

I interviewed for my residency in fall 1981. At that time, there was no Moran Eye Center. There was, however, a very new ophthalmology department housed in the old Emergency Room in the main hospital building. It consisted of only six faculty members. What impressed me most about the department at the time, something that holds true today, was the faculty's enthusiasm. They were clearly excited about the department, where it was going, and most of all, enthusiastic about teaching. I remember the end of the interview day waiting to meet with Dr. Randy Olson. He was delayed in the OR, and I sat there trying to decide whether to stay for the interview or catch my plane. It was the best flight I ever missed. His excitement about the program was infectious. I came away convinced that this was a place I could be happy training and developing the expertise I would need to practice ophthalmology.

How did your residency at Moran influence your career in ophthalmology?

It was everything. I loved my residency. Every day was an adventure of learning about ophthalmology and becoming more proficient in the clinical and surgical skills needed as an ophthalmologist. It was a small group of residents and faculty, and we had a lot of fun together. The faculty was amazing and, as I had hoped, were dedicated teachers, intent on making sure that we were more than competent by the time we finished. I doubt that many programs at the time gave their residents anywhere close to the surgical experience that we had. It is really important to finish a residency having confidence that you can handle just about anything that comes your way. Ophthalmology involves a lifetime of learning, and I certainly gained much more experience over the years, but my residency gave me the strongest possible base to grow from.

Did you go into a specialty? If so, what led you to choose that specialty?

I was hugely influenced by my mentor, Dr. Alan S. Crandall. I remember my first day in clinic with him. I walked over to introduce myself, and he said, "Of course I know who you are, now come and look at this. What do you think about this patient's lens?"

That was my introduction to pseudoexfoliation, glaucoma, and the joy of looking through a slit lamp, seeing the problem, and learning how to treat it. He really made every day an adventure in learning. What I liked about glaucoma was that there were many modalities of treatment, medical, surgical, and laser, and that one could work with patients of all ages and genders. I also loved that I could get to know my patients as they came back regularly for follow-up. This all led to a six-month glaucoma fellowship with Alan and a six-month fellowship at the University of Iowa in neuro-ophthalmology. I then did another year of glaucoma training with Mike Van Buskirk in Portland, Oregon, and spent some time at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London with a pediatric glaucoma specialist.

Where did you practice ophthalmology?

After my fellowship training, I was honored to be invited back to join the faculty at the University of Utah. It was a dream job. Alan and I had the joy of training numerous fellows together and many residents. It was with great sadness I left the department in 2001 when my husband's job relocated us to Spokane, Washington. I joined the Spokane Eye Clinic, a wonderful private practice group. It was much like being at Moran, but without the same level of teaching opportunities.

What sparked your interest in Moran's global outreach work?

I was interested in outreach medicine from my childhood. My mother was born in Malawi and grew up in South Africa, and I remember reading books growing up about the flying doctors who cared for patients in remote areas of Africa. As soon as my second child went off to college, I started talking to Dr. Crandall about getting involved in outreach. My first trip was to Guatemala in 2014, and it truly was life-altering. I was overwhelmed by this population's needs and the incredible challenge of working in difficult conditions on some of the most severe cases I have ever encountered.

How many outreach trips have you joined with the Moran team, and where were they?

I have made trips to Guatemala and Tanzania with the Moran outreach team. I have also been working for the last several years with Dr. Susan MacDonald at Eye Corps and have been to Tanzania several times with that group, which has included many Moran team members. COVID has curtailed recent trips to Tanzania, but we continue to work with doctors and residents there with online training and support.

What are some of your most memorable outreach experiences?

Some of the cases that stick with me the most were those that we were not able to help—those with normally treatable conditions that simply weren't brought to care until it was too late. One case I will never forget was a young child with a large orbital tumor that led to proptosis, corneal exposure, and perforation.

Whether in Guatemala or Tanzania, seeing a stooped elderly patient holding on to a stick or an arm as they are led by a younger family member into the clinic is something you never forget. On the other hand, I don't really think anything compares to seeing the smile on the face of that same patient the next day when the eyepatch comes off after cataract surgery. It is amazing to know that you have had a small part in helping someone see again and regain some independence.