The Omaha Medical College was chartered in 1869, then later founded in 1881, in part by Dr. Harold Gifford Sr. The college became the University of Nebraska College of Medicine in 1902. Dr. Gifford chaired the Department of Ophthalmology and Otology for more than a quarter of a century, from 1898 to 1924. As one of his students stated, "The department was pretty much Dr. Gifford." Under his leadership, the department's teaching evolved from a one-hour lecture in ophthalmology each semester for senior students to a course that consisted of clinical lectures, lecture demonstrations, and practical work. By 1910, approximately 76 hours of ophthalmology course work was available to junior and senior medical students.
The divisions of ophthalmology and otology were reorganized into two separate departments in 1929. Prior to this time, Dr. Harold Gifford's older son, Sanford Gifford, MD, established himself as one of the ophthalmology department's most valued members. Sanford Gifford set up his own private laboratory on the campus of the Nebraska College of Medicine, and published 53 scientific papers by the time he was 37 years old. He left Omaha in 1929 to become Professor and Chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology at Northwestern University School of Medicine. This was thought to be the first academic ophthalmology program in the country to have a full time chairman. Dr. Harold Gifford, Sr.'s younger son, Harold Gifford, Jr., was the third member of the family to enter ophthalmology. He returned to Omaha after completing an ophthalmology residency at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary in Boston, Massachusetts and joined the faculty in the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Nebraska College of Medicine in 1934.
The ophthalmology residency program at University of Nebraska was officially recognized in 1946 and was accredited in 1959. During this period, the eye clinic was located in three small rooms in the South Building on the medical campus. Equipment was minimal and the program was very informal. The residency actually was a carryover of the preceptorship started by Dr. J. Hewitt Judd in 1930.
In the mid 1950s, a separate eye clinic was established at the Veterans Administration (VA) Hospital under the direction of Drs. George Alliband and John Filkins. The VA Medical Center remains an integral part of the ophthalmology residency-training program.
Dr. Harold Gifford, Jr. became chairman of the department in 1964. He oversaw dramatic changes in the department during his six-year tenure. The department grew in patient volume, clinical space, and increasing numbers of volunteer faculty. This significantly increased the fund of ophthalmic knowledge for resident education. Dr. Gifford's particular passion was ophthalmic pathology. He held weekly pathology conferences, which were favorites among the students and residents.
During the 1960s, the university grew and so did ophthalmology. The department moved from the South Building to a third floor wing of the University Hospital Building. This new space included five exam rooms, a minor surgery room, visual field rooms, a photography room, a pathology laboratory, a reception room, and a residents' office.
The expansion of the department continued in 1970 with the building and dedication of the Nebraska Lions Eye Institute. At this same time, Dr. Raymond Records was recruited from the University of Colorado and appointed Professor and full-time Chairman of the Ophthalmology Department. Erected adjacent to the eye clinic in the University Hospital, this facility was constructed to support three major purposes: clinical practice, research and teaching.
In 1989, the Department of Ophthalmology was relocated at the corner of 40th Street and Dewey Avenue. Dr. Stanley Truhlsen, a graduate of the University of Nebraska in Lincoln (UNL) and the University of Nebraska College of Medicine in 1944, became interim chairman of the department from 1989 to 1990. The new clinical building housed the clinical portion of the department, including 12 patient exam rooms, four diagnostic testing areas, a minor surgery room, a photography lab, a classroom, and administrative offices.
Michael Yablonski MD, PhD served as departmental chairman from 1990 to 2000. Under his leadership several significant events occurred: the Gifford Laboratory of Ophthalmology was dedicated in April 1993 in honor of Drs. Harold Gifford, Sr., Sanford Gifford, and Harold Gifford, Jr. Also at this time, the Harold Gifford Jr. Lecture Series was established. In 1995, the Eye Specialties Building increased in size to include 8 additional administrative offices and space for the expanding faculty and supporting personnel. Three years later, the Lions Eye Research Laboratories were established on the first floor of the Eye Specialties Building with the help of generous funding from the Lions Club of Nebraska.
In 2001, Dr. Truhlsen became president of the Ophthalmology Division of the University of Nebraska Foundation. As a result of a generous gift from Dr. Truhlsen, additional space for research was provided to the Department of Ophthalmology in the Durham Research Center of Excellence, which was completed in 2003. These impressive laboratories in this state-of-the-art facility will enable the department to expand its research endeavors by attracting new research faculty who will conduct pioneering investigations with competitive, national funding.
In 2005, the Department of Ophthalmology became the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences. Until 2009 the department and clinic continued under the direction of Professor and Chairman, Dr. Carl Camras, a world-renowned researcher and international expert in the field of glaucoma. Following the loss of Dr. Carl Camras in 2009, Dr. Thomas W. Hejkal was named interim and subsequently Department Chairman in 2010. The department's vision for the future included becoming an eye institute, to provide the latest in diagnostic capability for our community or clinical trials infrastructure for our colleagues, and technical training in state-of-the-art ophthalmology and ocular surgery.
On March 1, 2013, Quan Dong Nguyen, MD, MSc, was named the McGaw Endowed Chair in Ophthalmology, Professor and Chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology and Director of the Stanley M. Truhlsen Eye Institute at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Prior to being chosen for the chairmanship at Nebraska, Dr. Nguyen was Associate Professor of Ophthalmology for Diseases of the Retina, Vitreous, and Uveitis, at the Wilmer Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland.
On May 22, 2013, the grand opening of The Stanley M. Truhlsen Eye Institute was held and The Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences was moved to its new home at 3902 Leavenworth.
On April 22, 2016, Dr. James W. Gigantelli was named Interim Chairman and Director of the Truhlsen Eye Institute.