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By Ava Kikut

Scheie Vision Summer 2015

Charles Nichols, MD, came to Scheie as a resident in 1965 after graduating from Jefferson Medical College and has remained an integral part of the Scheie and Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP) communities for over 50 years. He has provided general ophthalmic care to thousands of patients and participated in a number of nationally recognized initiatives. 

As a senior resident, Dr. Nichols joined the medical support team for Tektite I, a nationally sponsored naval program that tested the effects of saturated diving on human health. The 1969 experiment involved sending a team of aquanauts to live in a manmade habitat 60 feet underwater for three months. Penn scientists, led by Dr. Christian J. Lambersten (then Director of Penn’s Institute of Environmental Medicine) played a major role in engineering the mission, including designing the first decompression chamber used to receive divers from pressurized compartments. Dr. Nichols was selected to join the team of Penn physicians that provided medical support to the mission. He visited the site, which was off the coast of the Virgin Islands, to perform ophthalmologic exams on the subjects. 

Since joining the Scheie faculty in 1971, Dr. Nichols has become an authority on the treatment of a number of diseases, particularly those associated with compromise of the immune system. For fifteen years he ran and developed the largest center for the national Studies of the Ocular Complications of AIDS (SOCA) trials. The study investigated cytomegalovirus (CMV), a herpes virus that deteriorates the eye. The study allowed for the design of a specific drug that would control CMV. The disease, which used to occur in over 50% of AIDS patients, is now treatable and very rare. Dr. Nichols has also been involved in various other studies and collaborations. He spent two years in Penn’s Pharmacology Department, investigating cholinesterase in the retina, nerve transfer, and nerve gas.

Dr. Nichols continues to inspire his colleagues and mentees with his extraordinary attention to patients. Alumni president Dr. Scott Goldstein reflected on his time working in Dr. Nichols’ clinic as a resident: “Charlie would see 80 patients in a day in the old 2 Gates clinic but somehow still have time to teach and keep you on your toes. I can recall missing the aqueous veins of Asher and the limbal girdle of Vogt as a first year resident early on between all the consults at HUP. He has always been a great mentor and a pleasure to learn from." 

Dr. Nichols’ dedication to both patient care and teaching remains a constant. “Dr. Nichols is a masterful clinician,” remarked Jeff Head, a previous scribe of Dr. Nichols who is currently in medical school. “The countless relationships he has with patients, many of which extend over 30-40 years, are a daily reminder of how meaningful this type of personal care is to people. Working alongside him, I have learned what it takes to be a great physician and I know that I will be a better person and one day even a better doctor for having worked with him.” He speaks for a great many of Dr. Nichols students and colleagues. 

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