In 1990, Dr. Robert Nelson made a career change from which he said he’s “never looked back.”
The Williston Park resident was working in plastic and reconstructive surgery in Manhattan when his brother-in-law asked him to manage an ophthalmological surgery center in Brentwood.
Nelson already had several years’ experience managing ambulatory surgery centers — facilities where patients have operations and typically go home the same day — so he made the move.
The transition was fairly easy, he said, as both fields involve “microsurgery,” operations on nerves and vessels using tiny instruments.
“Certainly the eye is very different than other parts of the body, but the skills required are very much the same,” Nelson said.
About 10 years later, Nelson became executive director of the Island Eye Surgicenter in Carle Place, a role he’s held for about 15 years in which he oversees 40 surgeons and 65 employees.
He also oversaw in January the groundbreaking for Island Eye’s “spectacular” new 27,000-square-foot office at 1500 Jericho Turnpike in Westbury, which he said will allow even more doctors to treat more patients with the center’s unique medical technology.
After spending many years commuting to Manhattan, Suffolk County and Connecticut, Nelson said, being at Island Eye lets him stay close to Williston Park, which he and his family have called home for more than three decades.
“It took me 25 years to figure out that working close to home was a good thing,” he said.
Island Eye’s new location is about three miles from Williston Park, where Nelson and his wife, Barbara, moved from Oyster Bay. They were attracted to the village because it was a “very homey community,” he said.
They thought their house on Broad Street would be a starter home, he said, and hoped to eventually relocate somewhere larger. But they never left.
The Nelsons raised three children in the village, and Robert was active in the Williston Park Little League and was once chairman of the village Recreation Committee.
“Thirty-eight years later, we raised our family and loved every minute of it, and here we are with an empty nest right now, and it is the perfect retirement home,” Nelson said.
Slated to open this fall, Nelson said Island Eye’s new facility will triple its capacity to provide the ophthalmological care for which it’s developed a reputation. It gets patients from both Long Island counties, the New York metropolitan area and some from around the country, he said.
Isnald Eye has “completely outgrown” its current 9,500-square-foot space on Glen Cove Road in Carle Place, Nelson said, where it’s already one of the region’s busiest cornea transplant centers, doing 150 of the procedures a year.
It was also the fourth center in the nation to use a femtosecond laser, he said, a highly specialized, $400,000 instrument that gives doctors more precision and accuracy in cataract surgeries. Nelson said only one other facility in Nassau County has one.
“All we do, day in and day out, is eye surgery,” Nelson said. “We do very complicated procedures and … we have technology here that’s not available at the hospitals.”
The new energy-efficient facility will have six operating rooms and two procedure rooms, up from the three operating rooms at the current office, Nelson said.
The additional space will let Island Eye accommodate more area doctors who want to bring patients there for care, he said. The center expects to create 15 to 20 jobs as it grows over the next four to five years, according to a statement announcing the groundbreaking.
“We find and are pleased that this new facility, once it’s finished and once we occupy it, is going to allow us to remain in the community and be a part of the health care delivery system on Long Island for many years to come,” Nelson said.