International Nurses Day 2022 takes place today, 12 May, and to celebrate its theme, A Voice to Lead, Eye News and Orbis - the eye care charity - are celebrating the work of the industry's ophthalmic nurses.

During the pandemic, not only have these nurses trained the next generation of ophthalmic nurses in the fight against avoidable blindness worldwide, but many have put their lives at risk working on the frontline to help patients.  

Globally, 1.1. billion people have vision loss and 90% of it is avoidable. Nine out of 10 of these people live in low- to-middle income countries with limited access to eye care.

Orbis UK volunteer nurses, many of whom work in the NHS, along with ophthalmologists and anaesthetists, train the next generation of medics through hospital-based programmes in low- to-middle income countries and on board the Orbis Flying Eye Hospital, an ophthalmic hospital on board an aircraft.

Although the Orbis Flying Eye Hospital is currently not travelling, Orbis’s team of medics have been able to train nurses virtually using their telemedicine platform Cybersight to deliver workshops and training on pressing issues such as infection control and caring for the mental health of frontline workers throughout the pandemic. The platform has grown from over 16,000 users in March 2020 to 63,000 users in 200 countries. All this they achieved as volunteers while also going about their days jobs as nurses working in ophthalmic care.

Case Studies:

British nurse Angela Purcell, Head Nurse on the Orbis Flying Eye Hospital, has delivered virtual training to nurses around the world during the COVID 19 outbreak.

She said: “Another wave of the pandemic comes, and sometimes it can feel like a movie, but we get on with our training. The biggest challenge has been making sure nurses don’t fall behind. For some of them, virtual learning is completely new. They need help with Cybersight and technical support, so the job is more than just straight-forward training now.”


Angela Purcell, Head Nurse on the Orbis Flying Eye Hospital

Angela goes on to explain the legacy of this approach: “There is a nurse who lives in Barbados that we trained during a Flying Eye Hospital project in Bridgetown, Barbados, May 2018. That same nurse ended up delivering a presentation for the training participants during one of our virtual projects in 2020.”

Nurses from the NHS: 

Anne-Marie Ablett, a theatre nurse living in Wales has volunteered with Orbis for almost 20 years. As with many Orbis medical volunteers, she uses her annual leave to work in low- to-middle income countries providing training and nursing children and adults who have had surgeries.

Anne-Marie said: “For me it’s like going home. I meet nurses who just haven’t had the opportunities like me to develop. When a nurse comes up to you and says please teach me, it makes my job the easiest in the world.”


Anne-Marie Ablett, theatre nurse and Orbis volunteer

Anne-Marie, who taught a webinar to nurses on looking after their mental health last year, explains what it was like for her working during the pandemic: “We did it, but it was an all-around frightening experience. I pitched up for work every day and remember sitting outside my home at 1am, seeing the numbers going up and up and feeling really anxious.” Anne-Marie said patients went blind because they did not get to a hospital in time and emergency situations left the team wondering if the extra few minutes to put on PPE could have resulted in a different outcome for some patients.

“But I felt totally supported by my colleagues, we were all in the same boat and we got through it. There is more acceptance of mental health issues because we’ve all been affected by COVID,” Anne-Marie added, sadly lost some colleagues due to from COVID-19 during the height of the pandemic.

Angeline Chaipa, a theatre nurse at Moorfields Eye Hospital, London, says: “Lots of learning took place while we were putting our lives at risk. Working as a nurse during the pandemic, we became more resilient. We had to ensure patients were getting the best care despite changing protocols, limited resources, and mental and physical threats. And we had to adhere to infection control.”

“As nurses I think we should involve ourselves more in leadership and decision-making, in-patient care as we stay with the patients for longer.”

To support the voices of our nurses and to celebrate their amazing work this International Nurses Day, follow us on social media @OrbisUK and use the hashtags #VoiceToLead #IND2022.