The Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine traces its origins back to 1961. Dr. Felix N. Sabates, a fellow at the Eye Research Foundation and Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, Harvard Medical School, was recruited as head of the Retina Service and Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology at the new Eye Department at the University of Missouri in Columbia.
During the same year, Kansas City General Hospital (the predecessor of University Health Truman Medical Centers) was experiencing a financial crisis due to lack of funding from the city and faced the loss of accreditation with their teaching program. Dr. Vernon Wilson, Dean of the School of Medicine at the University of Missouri-Columbia, along with the supporting members of the medical community in Kansas City, established an affiliation between the Kansas City General Hospital and the medical school in Columbia to maintain the educational programs. Dr. John Buesseler, the founder of the Eye Department at the University of Missouri-Columbia, was appointed as liaison officer to implement the affiliation. The Department of Ophthalmology at Columbia and the Eye Department at General Hospital were integrated with residents rotating from the Columbia to Kansas City for their training. During this time, Dr. Sabates traveled to Kansas City regularly, not only to supervise the residents, but to monitor the program activities.
In November 1966, Dr. Sabates resigned as Associate Professor and Acting Chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology in Columbia and moved to Kansas City where he was given the responsibility of directing the eye program at the General Hospital on a part-time basis. The physical facilities at the hospital were antiquated with little equipment. Clinics were held in the basement of the hospital and though frequent discussions were held on facility updates plans were deferred due to financial circumstances.
The establishment of the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine in 1971 heralded a new era on Hospital Hill, and the eye program at the General Hospital became independent and received full accreditation in 1970. Dr. Sabates remained chief of the Division of Ophthalmology, part of the Department of Surgery; however, financial support for the Department continued to be limited due to other priorities within the new medical school and hospital.
It was a severe challenge to secure attending staff to teach in the training program and care for the clinic population under less than optimal conditions. But former residents of the program in Columbia with established practices in the Kansas City area provided great suppport.
In the middle 1970s, financing had become available and the Department of Ophthalmology was moved from the basement of General Hospital to the fourth floor of University Health Truman Medical Center. Approximately 2,000 square feet of a new clinic space was established for the Department.
At this time, the ophthalmology program that had been a section of the Department of Surgery acquired departmental status, and Dr. Sabates was named as Chairman of the new Department of Ophthalmology.
In 1986, a group of ophthalmologists, members of the staff and friends of the community established a not-for-profit organization to support the Department of Ophthalmology. A new facility was constructed close to University Health Truman Medical Center and the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine for the use by the Department.
In 2013, the Department relocated to a new clinic in the Hospital Hill Center building. And in 2015, it moved to its current location in the University Health Building, a state-of-the-art facility providing space and the latest technology to allow cutting-edge education, testing and treatment in eye care.