Thomas V. Johnson, III, MD, is the recipient of the 2021 American Academy of Ophthalmology Artemis Award.
Dr. Johnson was nominated by Wilmer Eye Institute at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine for his ongoing efforts and passion for medical student and resident education in ophthalmology and helping the underserved populations in Baltimore City, Md. communities surrounding Johns Hopkins.
The Vision Screening in Our Neighborhoods (ViSION) Program (formerly the Student Sights Savers Program) is a medical student-run organization that was founded by Dr. Johnson when he was only a first-year medical student at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine (JHSOM).
Since 2014, the Academy has honored a young ophthalmologist with the Artemis Award in recognition the tremendous work he or she has done to help disadvantaged communities obtain vision care. The award is named after the Greek goddess Artemis, who was the protector and nurturer of the vulnerable and suffering.
Past recipients have helped deliver health care to poor or elderly communities, designed, or launched community-based health care programs or educational programs for patients.
Dr. Johnson and his colleagues were volunteering in the Charm City Clinic, a free clinic began by medical students and community leaders, when they took the initiative to poll East Baltimore community residents about health care needs, they did not have access to. The top two responses were eyecare and dentistry. Seeing there was a great need for ophthalmology services, Dr. Johnson found Dr. Harry Quigley, a mentor and A. Edward Maumenee Professor of Ophthalmology at the Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute and began this incredible organization.
Dr. Johnson made the mission of ViSION to bridge a community-defined gap in access to ophthalmological care in Baltimore City and the surrounding counties by conducting vision screenings in underserved communities and coordinating follow-up care for individuals in whom eye disease is detected.
The group’s main goal is to detect and address a wide range of diseases, from simple refractive error to glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, and age-related macular degeneration. Importantly, he ensured that follow-up clinical care with ophthalmology faculty at the Wilmer Eye Institute would be guaranteed for all persons screened through the program, regardless of insurance status or ability to pay.
Dr. Johnson structured ViSION so that it is primarily run by medical students, overseen by a dedicated faculty mentor, and aided by numerous Faculty volunteers. For the last 11 years, Dr. Johnson has been at the heart of ViSION’s enduring success. From 2011-14, Dr. Johnson spent countless hours as a medical student volunteer and, as of 2019, became the faculty mentor for the group.
As the faculty mentor, Dr. Johnson trains medical students in all techniques necessary to conduct community-based vision screenings and personally supervise screenings. Screenings include measurement of Snellen visual acuity, intraocular pressure by rebound tonometry, FDT automated perimetry, Panoptic direct ophthalmoscopy and OCT of the macula and optic nerve. Additionally, Wilmer ophthalmologists provide free care for any patients screened by ViSION who is found to have an abnormal screening result.
Since its founding, the ViSION has operated continuously with a medical student executive board elected annually. ViSION has thus far conducted 45 vision screening events involving >250 trained JHU medical student volunteers and 1227 community residents of the greater Baltimore area. The program has arranged for ophthalmologic evaluation and treatment for 425 patients who were screened in the community and provided 70 pairs of free glasses to patients with refractive error (coordinated through the Wilmer Optical Shop).
COVID-19 Interrupts Screenings
No screenings have taken place since March 2020 due to COVID-19, but Dr. Johnson has mentored the medical students through several quality assurance evaluations and projects to assess and improve the program. In addition, Dr. Johnson frequently sees indigent patients in his own clinic without charge and has performed dozens of surgeries through Wilmer’s Angel Fund program, in which the surgeon’s professional fees are waived. Dr. Johnson is a volunteer with the Academy’s EyeCare America program as well as with AGS Cares.
Dr. Johnson is a clinician-scientist in the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins. He grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and studied biology and chemistry at Northwestern University as an undergraduate. He then spent one year at the University of Nebraska studying aqueous humor dynamics before completing his PhD in neuroscience at the University of Cambridge in the U.K. His doctoral research involved directing a collaborative project between a stem cell laboratory at Cambridge and a molecular biology laboratory in the National Eye Institute’s National Institutes of Health intramural research program, studying stem cell transplantation as a potential neuroprotective treatment for glaucoma.
Dr. Johnson has been at Johns Hopkins since 2010, where he completed medical school, an ophthalmology residency, a glaucoma fellowship and served as the Wilmer Eye Institute’s assistant chief of service. Dr. Johnson is a glaucoma specialist and treats patients in the clinic and OR for one to two days a week. The rest of his time is spent in his translational neuroscience laboratory where is he investigating retinal ganglion cell replacement therapies for vision restoration in glaucoma and other optic neuropathies.