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The Wills Eye Hospital was established in 1832 through a bequest of Quaker merchant James Wills to the City of Philadelphia. The Wills Eye Institute is governed by the Board of Directors of City Trusts. It is a non-profit specialty institution whose clinical expertise and sophistication of diagnostic and treatment procedures make it a worldwide referral center.

The Wills Eye Hospital has consistently been ranked as one of the best hospitals in the United States by U.S. News & World Report since the survey's inception in 1990. Programs maintained by Wills Eye Institute are organized along the traditional divisions of patient care, education, and research activities.

History of Wills Eye

The first Wills Eye Hospital, containing 70 beds, was located at the southwest corner of 18th and Race Streets in Philadelphia, opposite what is now Logan Circle. As a specialty institution from its inception, Wills played a vital role in establishing ophthalmology as a separate branch of medicine in this country.

By the early 1900s, Wills Eye had outgrown its quarters. In 1932 the Hospital relocated to a new building at 16th and Spring Garden Streets. The new Hospital expanded the inpatient bed capacity to 120, increased outpatient service areas, and provided additional conference and teaching facilities. In the 1960s, Wills Eye began to develop subspecialty services, in addition to its General Ophthalmology Service (now the Cataract and Primary Eye Care Service). Dealing with particular diseases or parts of the eye, these services now number nine: Contact Lens, Cornea, Glaucoma, Neuro-Ophthalmology, Oculoplastics, Oncology, Pathology, Pediatric Ophthalmology, and Retina.

In 1972, Wills Eye affiliated with Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University. As a result, Wills Eye now serves as Jefferson's Department of Ophthalmology. All Jefferson medical students receive their basic eye instruction and training at Wills Eye. With its continued growth, Wills Eye once again needed larger quarters. Wills Eye moved to a new facility at 9th and Walnut Streets in 1980. This new building won several design awards, and was nearly twice as large as the previous building. It featured greatly expanded outpatient services in keeping with the trend toward outpatient care in ophthalmology.

Wills Eye constructed a new state-of-the-art, out-patient facility. The new Wills Eye Institute, located at 840 Walnut Street, directly across the street from the in-patient facility. It opened in June 2002 and is considered one of the most advanced eye centers in the world. The eight-story building delivers a full range of eye care services in a modern, comfortable setting. The new facility houses an ambulatory surgery center, physician offices, state-of-the-art diagnostic center, clinics and a center for ophthalmic education and research.

Education at Wills Eye Hospital

The Wills Eye Hospital built its outstanding reputation as a pioneer in ophthalmic education by establishing the first ophthalmology residency program in the country in 1839. Admission to the residency program is extremely competitive; eight physicians are selected every year from 500 applicants. Wills currently has 24 residents enrolled in the three-year program, making it one of the largest ophthalmic training programs in the country.

In addition to the residency program, Wills offers fellowships in each ophthalmic subspecialty. At the present time there are 26 ophthalmologists enrolled in clinical and research fellowship programs. Wills has a long-standing academic and clinical relationship with Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and Jefferson Medical College. Thomas Jefferson University sponsors the Wills Eye Residency Program and Wills serves as Jefferson's Department of Ophthalmology. Jefferson medical students and non-ophthalmology residents rotate through Wills Eye as part of their training.


Research has a long and distinguished history at Wills Eye. It is carried out in the laboratories of the Research Department (which was first formally organized in 1952), in many of the Wills subspecialty services, and in cooperative efforts involving both ophthalmologists and laboratory scientists. Macular degeneration, Stickler syndrome, glaucoma and ocular cancers in children and adults are the primary areas of research taking place at Wills Eye using the most advanced scientific equipment. Through molecular genetics, gene identification and gene sequencing investigators are compiling critical data for use in future treatments or cures of these blinding diseases.

A major aspect of research is directed at improving the diagnosis of diseases and conditions and at developing better methods of treatment. Other studies are aimed at developing new treatments for infectious or inflammatory eye disease, either of which, if not treated promptly and effectively, can permanently diminish sight.

Community Outreach

Wills Eye maintains a Free Public Eye Screening that has been held in the Wills Eye building every spring since 1980 for members of the community. Adults and children over the age of three are screened for various eye problems by members of the Wills Eye medical staff who volunteer their time. The visual acuity of screening participants is tested by Wills Eye ophthalmic technicians.

Our charity care program provides free care to low income patients. Over $450,000 of free care is provided each year.

Wills Eye Surgical Network

Wills Eye has also branched into the community with a network of same-day surgery centers throughout Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. The centers offer care that reaches beyond ophthalmology to other surgical specialties such as orthopedics, pediatrics, plastics, and ear, nose and throat. Wills Eye also provides laser vision correction at its center in downtown Philadelphia and centers throughout the tri-state region.


Wills is managed by a tripartite organization consisting of the Board of Directors of City Trusts, the Wills Eye administration, and the medical staff. Overall policy — including matters pertaining to selection, direction, and accountability of management — is determined by the Board of Directors of City Trusts. Establishment of institutional objectives and decisions relating to the operations are the responsibility of the Wills administration. Strategies and administrative concerns relating to professional matters, the residency program, and research are under the purview of the Ophthalmologist-in-Chief and Executive Council of the medical staff.

Board of Directors of City Trusts

In his bequest, James Wills stipulated that Wills be administered by the Mayor of Philadelphia or his representatives. In 1869, the Pennsylvania legislature established the Board of Directors of City Trusts for the purpose of administering such funds left in trust to the City. The Board consists of twelve citizens of Philadelphia, appointed by and accountable to the Judges of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia. Members of the Board, who are named for life or during good behavior, serve without compensation. The Mayor and the President of the Council of the City of Philadelphia are ex-officio members. The Board's bylaws provide that matters relating to Wills Eye shall be supervised by a standing committee of the Board, the Wills Eye Committee. The CEO of Wills consults frequently with the Chair of the Hospital Committee on all matters of Wills policy, organizational changes, and major operational problems.

Wills Eye Officials

Joseph Bilson
CEO, Wills Eye

Julia A. Haller, MD
Ophthalmologist-in-Chief, Wills Eye

Accreditation and Approvals
  • Pennsylvania Department of Health
  • Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education
  • Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education of the American Medical Association
  • College of American Pathologists
  • American Association of Eye and Ear Hospitals
  • Council of Specialty Surgical Facilities and Institutes