Lance Nelson, MD

Dr. Laurence (Lance) Nelson is an ophthalmologist and eye surgeon at Tanner Clinic in Layton. He recently retired as commander of the 419th Fighter Wing Medical Squadron, a reserve squadron based at Hill Air Force Base.

As commander, Col. Nelson maintained the medical readiness of more than 1,000 troops. This post followed an extended career as an active-duty officer serving as a trauma ophthalmologist around the world.

The board-certified ophthalmologist joined Tanner Clinic in 1999.

Dr. Nelson began his education at Idaho State University in Pocatello, earning his B.S. in zoology. He moved on to Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, where he completed graduate work in medical physiology.

Dr. Nelson earned his M.D. from Texas A&M University Health Science Center College of Medicine in College Station, Texas, achieving the status of Honor Graduate for ranking in the top 5 percent. He completed his residency in ophthalmology at Scott & White Temple Hospital, based in Temple, Texas. In his final year, he served as Chief Resident.

Dr. Nelson’s professional experience includes a variety of leadership roles, including Chief of Ophthalmology at Vandenberg Air Base in California, where he established an Ophthalmology Education Program rated as excellent. During his deployment to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, he also maintained satellite consultation clinics in Turkey and Italy.

Dr. Nelson is married and the father of five children. His favorite pastimes are running — and flying in F-16s.

What patients are saying about Dr. Nelson

“Beautiful office, polite staff. Dr Nelson is very knowledgeable; he took the time to answer my questions and to do further testing. I was in and out of my appointment within 45 minutes. I left feeling very confident with his diagnosis.”   —  Bart on Google+, Dec. 13, 2014

“I experienced light flashes and floaters in my eye and called the Tanner Clinic for an appointment. They got me in right away to see Dr. Nelson. He found a tear in my retina and told me he would perform laser surgery that same day. Dr. Nelson set up his laser equipment and made 475 shots to repair the tear. He told me to call him immediately if there were any new light flashes or floaters and to schedule an appointment for follow-up in two days. He saw me two more times after that to be sure that it was healing, with another follow-up in four months. Everything looks good, and I’m glad I chose to see him!”   —  Yoshiharu of Layton, March 7, 2012

Specialized Procedures

The following list is by no means inclusive.

Optometrist or Opthamologist: Which to See When

What’s the difference between an optometrist and an ophthalmologist?

Many years of education, says Dr. Lance Nelson, an ophthalmologist and eye surgeon at Tanner Clinic Layton.

An optometrist is a “O.D.,” doctor of optometry, not the same as an M.D., or doctor of medicine. An O.D. is awarded to those who have completed four years at an optometry school following an undergraduate degree. A D.O. diagnoses and corrects vision problems.

An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor and surgeon, who has eight years of specialized training, including a four-year residency in eye disease and surgery.

“An optometrist is awesome when it comes to doing contact lens and glasses,” said Dr. Nelson.

But if any signs of disease are present — like glaucoma or inflammation — a visit to an ophthalmologist is a must.

Dr. Nelson recalls a recent patient who had seen an optometrist for preseptal cellulitis, an infection of the eyelid. Such a patient, he says, “should be immediately referred to an ophthalmologist — or they may end up in the ER at midnight.”

For a further look at the differences between ophthalmologists and optometrists, see this MedicineNet story.

— Tanner Clinic staff

Trauma Eye Surgeon Has Sights Set on Eye Injuries Worldwide

As commander of the 419th Fighter Wing Medical Squadron, Col. Laurence Nelson has one small grievance: He doesn’t have much time for skyrocketing.

Dr. Nelson is, by weekday, an ophthalmologist and eye surgeon at Tanner Clinic, involved in cataract surgery and diagnosis of complex eye problems. During other hours, however, he’s soaring in F-16 fighter jets.

As commander of this Air Force Reserve squadron, Dr.Nelson manages health care for all reservists at Hill AFB. Dr. Nelson oversees the health and wellbeing of more than 1,000 airmen, pilots and officers, as well as their medical readiness for war. He’s assisted, he says, by seven physicians, six dentists “and a bunch of other people.”

That leaves little time for flying — his favorite perk of the job and the reason he joined the AF Reserves after leaving the active force.

Strictly speaking, Dr. Nelson’s presence aboard the F-16s is to regulate and understand the stresses of piloting. “That’s the theory,” he says. “But I do it for fun.”

Paperwork keeps him grounded. “My commander work takes me away from doing the fun things,” he says.

Military duty worldwide

As an active-duty physician, Dr. Nelson’s duties have carried him all around the globe, as well as through some historical and chaotic times.

As one of the leading eye trauma surgeons in the Air Force, for instance, Dr. Nelson was on call at Landstuhl Air Base in Germany when the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed on the same day in 1998, killing at least 200 people and injuring hundreds more. Many American casualties needing trauma surgery were flown to the safety of the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.

He received an Army Commendation Medal for his services provided in the bombing’s aftermath.

“That gave me some great experience,” he said. Later, he’d use that experience while on tours to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Dr. Nelson was assigned to Balad Joint Base, widely known as Camp Anaconda, shortly before the Iraq War troop surge of 2007. As the flight commander of an active-duty fighter squadron, he was one of two ophthalmologists and part of the head/neck trauma team.

As the number of troops grew to 15,000 and more, Dr. Nelson was the expert on hand during times of mass casualties. Most of his work was reconstruction, he says, “removing eyes that were completely destroyed and repairing eyelids and eyes that we could save.”

Iraqis’ eye trauma worse than Americans

Most American soldiers carried protective gear, reducing their injuries. Less protected from roadside bombs and gunfire were the Iraqi police officers working with the Americans, He said. “A lot of the people I operated on were Iraqi police,” he remembers. “They didn’t have much of the ballistic eye-wear protection that our guys had, and they took a lot more casualties.”

American soldiers were flown to Germany after making it through the trauma triage in Iraq. “We’d only keep our people in the hospital for one or two days — we’d operate on them and then they were gone,” Dr. Nelson said. “But the Iraqis we would keep around until they were stabilized, because if we sent them right out to hospitals it wouldn’t work out well for them. Medical care in Iraq was still a mess.”

Doctor still loves his military patients

Following years carried him to Turkey and Italy where he managed satellite medical consultation clinics, as well as Afghanistan in 2010. His Air Force career was memorable, he says, “because I got to do some really cool stuff as a surgeon.”

Even today, some of his favorite patients are retired military. “Those guys are great; they’re like coming home,“ said Dr. Nelson. After he’s left to welcome his next patient, it seems he’s right at home as he enters the exam room, “How ya doing, you old rascal?”

Fly, Fight and Win


FLY, FIGHT AND WIN — Here’s more  information on Dr. Nelson’s military world:

Newspaper article about Dr. Nelson’s  experiences in Iraq

Col. Nelson assumes command of the  419th Fighter Wing Medical Squadron,  Oct. 2, 2011