Gus Colenbrander has been an integral part of our residency program since 1971 when Bruce Spivey recruited him as the first member of the new ophthalmology faculty. In the succeeding years, Gus, a true polymath, has made significant contributions in at least 4 unrelated fields, illustrating the scope of his curiosity and the depth of his intellect.
Born in Holland where he received his medical and ophthalmological training, Gus Colenbrander served on the faculty of Leiden University Medical School until 1969 when Bruce Spivey invited him to join the faculty at the University of Iowa as a visiting professor, inviting him again in 1971 to become a member of the faculty in San Francisco. He also became an affiliate Scientist at the Smith Kettlewell Eye Research Institute where his current interest is in the mechanisms of visual perception and in developing simple screening tools for early detection of vision problems.
His principal clinical interest is in Low Vision Rehabilitation, where he is known world-wide for his work promoting a multidisciplinary team approach for service delivery to the visually handicapped in order to enhance “How the PERSON functions”, even if “How each EYE functions” cannot be improved. He directed the Vision Rehabilitation Service at CPMC for 25 years and is a founding board member of the International Society for Low Vision Research and Rehabilitation. Until 2012 he represented his subspecialty on the Advisory Committee of the International Council of Ophthalmology (ICO).
Medical Information Systems, Classification and Coding, represent another facet of his scientific interests dating to the 1960s, during his years as a resident at the Royal Dutch Eye Infirmary. His work led to the1978 worldwide implementation of an entirely new Eye section in the 9th revision of the International Classification of Diseases. In 2000 he was asked to update the vision chapter of the AMA Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment (5th & 6th editions) and for the ICO, he was involved with the development and promotion of an international Visual Acuity Measurement Standard (1984). He has also authored the 2002 Visual Standards report on Aspects and Ranges of Vision Loss, the 2006 report on Vision Requirements for Driving Safety and the 2008 report on the Assessment of Functional Vision. Since 2008 he is co-chair of the Topic Advisory Group (TAG) for Ophthalmology to assist the WHO in the development of ICD-11.
Medical education has been another focus of Colenbrander’s work. He has contributed extensively to the development of various Instructional Materials including a national curriculum in ophthalmology for medical students and a mannequin for direct ophthalmoscopy. He has also been involved in WHO workshops on the prevention of blindness and has served as a WHO consultant to the South East Asia region.
All those whose residencies commenced after 1977 have been impacted by Dr. Colenbrander’s work establishing the Ophthalmology Matching Program, at first without the benefit of computer algorithms. After the Ophthalmology Matching program, he also established and maintained matching programs for residency applicants for Neurological Surgery, Otolaryngology, Neurology, and Plastic Surgery and for related Fellowships. After his clinical retirement in 1998, the programs continued under the management of the AAO.