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Young Ophthalmologists
Stakeholders from the Start: How YOs Gained a Voice in the Academy
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Once upon a time, young ophthalmologists had a nice little symposium at the Academy’s Annual Meeting. They met for about 90 minutes and discussed contracts, malpractice, buy-outs and other practice management topics.

Then, in 2005, something changed the face of YOs at the Academy forever. That something was secretary of member services (and current Academy president-elect) Ruth Williams, MD.

Ruth D. Williams, MD
Dr. Williams
Under Dr. Williams, the YO Symposium was expanded into a full-blown program at the Annual Meeting and a committee — which now includes three subcommittees — was added to the Academy leadership structure.

“Ruth poured 120 percent of her energy into YOs,” says YO Info chair Rob Melendez, MD, who has worked with Dr. Williams for a couple of years as she engaged the YO committee in her vision of a more robust YO presence. “I know the secretary represents every member, but Ruth worked so closely with the YOs that it felt like she had a special role just for us. She really advocated for YOs and gave us a voice at the table of the Academy's board.”

YO Committee chair Andy Doan, MD, agrees. “The thing that defines Ruth is her vision on where the Academy needs to go to support YOs,” says Dr. Doan. “Before Ruth, there was only the YO Symposium. Now, it’s a committee and subcommittees with a newsletter, social networking, advocacy, international, etc. She has expanded YOs scope to be more progressive and widely involved in the Academy.”

From YO Symposium to YO Program
Rather than just a 90-minute symposium, Dr. Williams gave YOs a home at the Annual Meeting. In addition to the all-important practice management courses, the program expanded to include sections on advocacy, education, practice models, work-life balance, social media and international opportunities and need, plus a YO-focused Breakfast with the Experts and a YO lounge for young ophthalmologists to mingle and network.

“Ruth brought in great speakers and offered a new session in Chicago — Networking with the Experts — for those of us who are technically YOs, but have been in practice for a few years,” says Dr. Melendez. “We had been sort of lost in the past, between residents and older ophthalmologists. Ruth recognized this and gave us programming that met our needs as well.”

Dr. Williams was also attuned to the needs of international YOs, “Ruth was there right from the beginning when I met with Academy leadership and staff to discuss establishing SOE YOs [in the European Society of Ophthalmology],” says Anthony Khawaja, MB, MA (Cantab), MRCOphth. “She understands the unique needs of European young ophthalmologists, and has a genuine desire to help. She has been a strong supporter of continued collaboration between Academy and SOE YO groups.” (Indeed, Dr. Williams will be speaking at the YO symposium during the SOE Congress in Geneva this June.)

Dr. Doan has seen signs of that increased collaboration at the Academy’s Annual Meeting. “Now, many internationals show up to YO events and meetings, such as the YO Lounge and networking events,” he says. “For the past two years, literally hundreds of international members show up to YO events during the annual meeting.”

A Place at the Table
Dr. Williams’ support of YOs hasn’t been limited to the annual meeting. Tamara Fountain, MD, who recently took over as secretary of member services, has been personally affected by Dr. Williams’ promotion of YOs in all aspects of Academy community.

Tamara Fountain, MD
Dr. Fountain
“During Ruth’s time as secretary, YOs became more important,” says Dr. Fountain. “YOs are now a moving force on their own. Ruth encouraged YO representation at a lot of secretariat meetings. This was new and a very positive change. It allowed YOs to have a voice during meetings as they were happening and decisions were being made.”

Once YO representation began to happen at secretariat meetings, and the secretariats came back to the board to discuss what YOs were doing, every board member proactively asked for YOs to sit on their committee.

While the secretary of member services represents the interests of all members to the board, Dr. Williams was significant in acknowledging the critical (and untapped) role YOs could be playing. “In this role, I’ve had to think about YOs and how to cultivate this group of members,” says Dr. Williams. “I wanted to consider the YO point of view, integrate their unique perspective and skill set with the Academy at large, and help cultivate YOs to evolve and become leaders.”

She admits that this has been a real culture change for the Academy. “Generations ago, the culture and attitude was that leadership had to be ‘proven’ and hard earned,” says Dr. Williams. “But now, YOs have permeated every part of the Academy. Most secretariat and committee meetings now have YO representation. In fact, people seek out the YO perspective.”

According to Dr. Doan, this is key to Dr. Williams’ success. “A big component of Ruth is the fact that she really envisioned where YOs should be, then determined what it would take to get us there.” Clearly, she has done this well.

“The world always changes and the rate of change, especially in the area of technology and the Internet, is incredible right now,” says Dr. Williams. “Senior leaders recognize this and are looking to and listening to YOs. The future rests with the YOs and the Academy’s actions support this.”

Passing the Baton
As Dr. Williams transitions from secretary of member services to president-elect, Dr. Fountain is stepping in to take over the reins. Dr. Fountain has many years of distinguished Academy service, including on the Board of Trustees as a trustee-at-large from 2005 to 2008. She has also been very active on the Academy Online Community and contributed to EyeNet’s blog coverage of the 2009 Joint Meeting. “I am thrilled to have Tamara take over,” says Dr. Williams. “She is a remarkable person and will come in with new ways and ideas to work with YOs and the entire membership.”

The respect and support between these two women is mutual. “Ruth has handed me a well-oiled, self-sufficient machine,” says Dr. Fountain. “As I take over the membership project, and especially the YO program, my primary goal is to continue to provide value, and make sure the new things we’ve been doing are meeting the goals of the Academy, members and their priorities.

Dr. Fountain plans to spend much of the first year in her new role listening and getting up to speed and learning from people who have been doing this already. But one that’s already jumped out to her as she looks at the task in front her — overseeing all ophthalmologists, from YOs to senior ophthalmologists — is how much cross-pollination could be occurring between the groups.

“In my new role, I hope to blend YOs and senior members, having them work together and share different areas of expertise,” says Dr. Fountain. “Much like a family. I would like to see as much interaction between the two groups as possible, with YOs bringing the technology and enthusiasm and the seniors their experience and wisdom.”

What Does the Future Hold?
As Dr. Williams looks forward to her oversight of the Academy at large, she says her time representing members has served her well. “In my job as secretary, I represented all members: YOs, seniors, military, etc. I think I bring a very good sense of who the ophthalmic community is. We are fortunate to have the best career. We are the luckiest people in the world to have the jobs we do.”

For Dr. Fountain, because the secretary of member services is about the entire Academy community, not just YOs, she is looking for YOs to take a leadership role in the Academy community, which had its origins in a YO committee recommendation.

“On the actual Academy community, YOs have a powerful tool to interact with Academy membership at large,” says Dr. Fountain. “We need to support this. We need to communicate more, blogging, asking and answering questions to build an information base.”

Dr. Fountain is also looking for ways to work more closely with the international ophthalmic community. “While we are the American Academy of Ophthalmology, we have a responsibility to the global ophthalmic family,” says Dr. Fountain. And working with YOs is a great way to get started.

“The influence of YOs and the Academy has set the example,” says Dr. Fountain. “We can, and have, exported the YO concept to international groups, and even our own national subspecialties, helping them create YO groups themselves. It’s a great start.”

With this type of leadership and vision, YOs and the Academy as a whole are in great hands. 

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About the author: Kimberly Day is a freelance health writer and medical editor and a frequent contributor to YO Info. She is the co-author of Hormone Revolution and ghost writer of Eat Papayas Naked. Additional reporting by Christi A. Foist, YO Info managing editor.

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