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The Ideal Ophthalmology Resident: Nine Keys from a Program Director
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Andreas Lauer, MD

Congratulations on starting your ophthalmology residency training. In my 10 years as program director, I’ve worked with dozens of ophthalmology residents, who have been integral in shaping the following tips. With thanks to them, here are my nine “ABCs” on being an ideal ophthalmology resident:

1. Treat others the way you would like to be treated.
An ideal resident will leave patients and their families feeling like they were listened to and cared for, referred to by their names and not their diagnoses. Great residents understand that professionalism in behavior, demeanor, communication, dress and presentation reflects respect for their patients and their profession and is not just meant to please supervisors or policies. Great residents recognize that patient care consists of identifying and being sensitive to diversity in cultural backgrounds when providing care.

2. Learn daily.
Be curious and stay hungry to learn about ophthalmic knowledge, innovations and technology. Keep your ophthalmology education an absolute, continual priority throughout the entire 36 months of your residency. There are various levels and perspectives of learning that occur at different points in residency training. You will be enriched when you look for opportunities to see more patients, participate in more surgeries and see how you can contribute to the field and to your department.

3. Remember your friends and family.
Don’t forget to care for yourself, your family, your co-residents/fellows and your friends. Know who is important in your life. In advance, agree with your family and friends about the times that your undivided attention is available to them only. There will of course be times when flexibility is needed, but keep the promise to yourself and your family as much as possible. Recognize, too, that the hours and minutes of the day are finite and never changing. If more time is taken from one area, it will need to be replaced at some time. Develop effective habits to promote balance in your personal life, managing fatigue through proper sleep and exercise and engaging in some avocation as well.

4. Organize your study time.
Dedicate and schedule in advance your self-study time. Choose a time and location that has been previously productive for your learning and is free from distractions. It may be early in the morning before the household is awake or in the evening when all are asleep. It may be at a library or coffee shop. It is absolutely imperative for you to read as much as you can about ophthalmology. Read peer-reviewed journals, the Basic Clinical Science Course (BCSC) books and about recent patients seen.

5. Strive to improve quality of care.
Explore ways to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of delivering ophthalmic care for the patient. Think about how your level of medical knowledge, clinical and surgical experience; method of interpersonal communication skills; and participation in the health care team impacts and improves the care of your patient.

6. Complete tasks on time, even administrative ones.
Ideal residents complete their operative notes, progress and consultation notes, letters, surgical case logs, leave requests, call arrangements and other important administrative tasks with minimal need for reminders.

7. Strive to help others.
In a residency program, you get what you give. When you help to make others look good, you look good and the department looks good. Look for practical ways to improve the daily life of residents’ clinical, surgical and educational activities. Resident program directors recognize and value most highly those residents who are team players.

8. Strive to teach others.
Help medical students and non-ophthalmic trainees be excited about ophthalmology. Seek opportunities to teach at case conferences, scientific meetings, ophthalmic technicians meetings, and medical student meetings.

9. Explore research opportunities.
Investigate ophthalmology’s subspecialties and engage in research in one or more areas. Participating in research can improve patient care and advance our understanding of ophthalmic knowledge. Research activity in residency also gives you a better understanding of certain subspecialties and provides you with experience for conducting future research, no matter what you find yourself doing for your career.

To summarize: an ideal ophthalmology resident, physician and surgeon continually makes education a priority and develops effective habits for lifelong learning in ophthalmology as well as to promote balance in his or her personal life. Through continual learning, you will advance in the level of care that you can provide for patients during training and as a trained ophthalmologist in the future.

From the moment that I started my ophthalmology training to the present day, I have always felt my time in ophthalmology has been a privilege. This profession has consistently given me purpose and satisfaction in what I do each day.

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About the author: Andreas K. Lauer, MD, is the ophthalmology residency program director at the Casey Eye Institute of Oregon Health and Science University and president of the Program Directors Council, Association of University Professors of Ophthalmology.
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