6 February 2019

Kanski lives on

Following news of Jack J. Kanski's passing in January at the age of 79, our museum curator, Neil Handley, and College members discuss his legacy in our latest blog.

"Put simply, Jack Kanski’s publications were probably the single most important influence on my clinical career."
Professor Leon Davies FCOptom

Distinguished consultant ophthalmologist Jack J. Kanski - best known for his multi-edition textbook Clinical Ophthalmology – A Systematic Approach - died on 5 January at the age of 79. He was a prolific author, both individually and in collaboration, but the aforementioned textbook was, to many practitioners, simply ‘The Bible’. 

First published in 1984 Clinical Ophthalmology was intended as a comprehensive introductory text for trainee ophthalmologists. It emphasised the correct interpretation of clinical signs and featured a large number of illustrations, many of them drawn or painted by ophthalmic artist Terry Tarrant. A theme running through all Kanski’s works was that visual recognition is often a major factor in making a correct diagnosis and memorising medical facts, and consequently many of his books have a pictorial quality that makes them a beauty to look at. As he said in the preface to Clinical Diagnosis in Ophthalmology in 2006, “One picture is worth a thousand words!”

"His works were both aspirational and intimidating. I spent many evenings thumbing through the pages studying each illustration in meticulous detail, only to learn a fraction of what he described. I have no doubt his legacy will live on for many more generations of practitioners."
Daniel Hardiman-McCartney FCOptom

Clinical Ophthalmology has gone through eight editions, the trend having been to grow ever larger. The 3rd edition was the only one to reduce the number of chapters, at the same time as omitting ‘with much regret’ the Further Reading section. Kanski had perhaps recognised that for many practitioners, particularly outside of ophthalmology, his book was often the first port of call. By the 7th edition he noted in the preface that ‘previous editions have also been widely utilised by other eye care professionals, particularly optometrists’. This is borne out by the lending statistics at The College of Optometrists’ Library. Kanski’s works have been issued over 2000 times in the past ten years and account for more than 10% of all library loans.

"This was my ‘go to’ book for my pre-registration year. When seeing interesting new cases, whether in my clinical sessions or my observations during eye casualty, I would always refer back to ‘Kanski’. It helped me during my year as a trainee, and continues to help me now."
Krupa Mistry MCOptom

More than just a doorstop or substitute dumb-bell, Clinical Ophthalmology serves as a running historical commentary on developments in the field. In 1999 the 4th edition introduced a new chapter on ocular trauma and removed ‘obsolete concepts’, so although still aimed primarily at trainees, the book could also provide a reference and update for experienced professionals. Ever mindful of his readership and the extent to which they used it practically, Kanski introduced a greater emphasis on practical management in the 7th edition.

"Kanski was the Holy Grail during my pre-reg and helped me become confident in my role as an optometrist. Even now, it consistently provides a concise point of reference when I come across something unusual, and has the added bonus of being easy to access, succinct, and ad-free... which is great in a time pressured environment!"
Farah Awan MCOptom

Throughout his writing, Kanski aimed to provide the reader with a useful and level-appropriate guide to practice. Many were intended as revision guides for exam preparation. Almost all of them are characterised by his desire to present a user-friendly format, concise text and high quality colour clinical photographs. His 1986 book The Eye in Systematic Disease (co-authored with Dafydd J. Thomas) was specifically targeted at non-ophthalmologists and is also to be found on our library shelves. Indeed, if we didn’t have books by Kanski we could probably manage with a smaller library space, but it is surely unthinkable that ‘Kanski’ which is now a brand as much as the man, will disappear from reading lists any time soon.

Related further reading

The historian and curator talks about his 25-year career at the College.