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YO Spotlight: John P. Berdahl, MD

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Like most everyone who gets into medicine, I became a doctor because I wanted to help people of all walks of life. It is what led me to take part in an ophthalmic mission trip to Burma (Myanmar) right after I graduated from medical school. I spent two weeks there, doing cataract surgery and performing eye exams. It was a life-changing trip for me.

I went with a group from Medical Ministry International. There were about 25 of us, four of whom were ophthalmologists. We saw patients from ages seven to 90, performed 200 cataract procedures and fitted 1,500 pairs of glasses in just two weeks. It was incredible. The best part was helping someone who was completely blind, someone who couldn’t even see fingers held out in front of her face, and being there the day after her surgery when she saw her grandchild for the first time. It’s a feeling that cannot be described.

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During my residency at Duke University, I read about EyeCare America, a public service program from the Academy’s Foundation. I wanted to get involved but could not, as a lot of academic residency programs (including Duke) have institutional policies barring you from offering free services via the university or clinic.

Since I could not participate in EyeCare America, I elected to work with Medical Ministry International again, this time going to Mexico. While we had a smaller group (10 to 12 people, including two ophthalmologists), we were able to perform approximately 120 cataract surgeries in two weeks. And, like the earlier Burma trip, we worked side-by-side with local ophthalmologists in an educational capacity that also ensured the patients we saw were able to get good-quality follow-up care.

Shortly after entering my fellowship at Minnesota Eye Consultants, Parag D. Parekh, MD, MPA, a former fellow here at MEC, approached me and asked me to serve as a YO representative on the Academy Foundation’s EyeCare America executive committee. He knew from my fellowship application that I was interested in caring for the underserved and thought I would enjoy taking a more active role in the volunteer opportunities offered by the Academy.

Not only did I accept, but I also joined in the EyeCare America effort by becoming a volunteer. I participate in all of the EyeCare America programs. For the glaucoma and seniors programs, I can offer exams, treatment and surgery. For the children’s, diabetic retinopathy, and macular degeneration programs, I offer exams. It’s a great way to help many people, allowing me to work both within my specialty and general ophthalmology.

When the time came to choose a practice, it was important to me that my future colleagues have the same beliefs and principles as myself — physicians who also want to help those in need, regardless of their ability to pay. I was fortunate to find such a practice in Sioux Falls, S.D., where all the doctors in the practice volunteer with EyeCare America.

For me, one of the best things about EyeCare America is that they make it easy to help. They identify the people who need your support and care, and you can see them right in your office. This allows you to provide the necessary care in a very efficient way.

Best of all, you become part of a group that has served more than 1 million people to date — people from your community, people living right down the road, people who need the care and services you provide. It is a great way to get involved as a young ophthalmologist, since your schedule is most likely not overflowing. Plus, it can jumpstart your reputation in your community as you serve your neighbors on a daily basis by sharing your skills, your compassion and your support.

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About the author: John P. Berdahl, MD, recently completed a fellowship in cornea, refractive surgery and glaucoma at Minnesota Eye Consultants. He will be joining Vance Thompson Vision in Sioux Falls, S.D., and will be heading overseas once again in late spring 2010, hopefully with a group of fellow ophthalmologists from his area.