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Finding a niche – KCOM alumnus invents ophthalmology tool

June 29, 2011
Posted In: Headlines, Profiles

The right tool for the job

Although there are hundreds of different tools available to ophthalmologists, KCOM alumnus Michael R. Willman, D.O., ’92, couldn’t find exactly what he needed when it came to the delicate tissues that make up the human eye. When he found a ring micro-forcep on the market and thought it would be useful in glaucoma surgery, he called the manufacturer and worked with them to redesign it.

Enter the Special Willman- Fechtner Conjunctiva Forceps. A spin-off of the Fechtner Conjunctiva Forceps, Dr. Willman’s invention gently manipulates and preserves eye tissue and ties sutures. And, although the tool is still developing its niche in the industry, it has reduced Dr. Willman’s surgery time by close to 30 percent.

Meet the inventor

Dr. Willman has been an ophthalmologist at Waynesborough Ophthalmology in Goldsboro, N.C., since 2002. He says he chose ophthalmology because he “found it so fascinating that significant pathology in the eye often represents disease elsewhere in the body.”

He actually began his journey toward medicine by pursuing an interest in anesthesiology at the University of Texas under the mentorship of Mark Watkins, D.O., ’72. He later found he was “bored to tears” during a thirdyear externship rotation at KCOM.

“I thought I had made a terrible mistake and wanted to go back to college for an M.B.A.,” he says. His father, Michael Karel Willman, D.O., ’65, encouraged him to complete a two-week ophthalmology rotation. And the rest is history.

A family affair

His decision to attend KCOM for his medical education was a nobrainer.

“I have lots of ties to the college,” Dr. Willman says. Not only is his father a grad, but so are his brother and cousin, as well as two of his uncles. His father taught radiology at KCOM for 31 years, and his uncle, Gail Burchett, D.O., ’65, still teaches a course in cardiology at the college. Following those footsteps, Dr. Willman taught ophthalmology at KCOM in the late ’90s.


Having grown up in Kirksville, Dr. Willman is no stranger to the heritage at ATSU. “President Magruder’s wife, Sue, was my third-grade teacher at Greenwood Elementary in Kirksville,” he shares.

And, that’s not the only fun fact that binds him to the university. Dr. Willman is the proud owner of a piano once belonging to and signed by Max Gutensohn, KCOM’s beloved D.O. and instructor. It is still played in his living room today.

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