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Pearls From a Program Director: Maximize YOur Training to be a Success
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Welcome to ophthalmology residency, during which you’ll build the foundation for your career and forge lifelong friendships. The next three years will be exciting and fast paced. After subtracting vacation and conference time, everything you need to know is compressed into 33 months. Residents and faculty cite effective time management and a positive attitude as the most important ingredients for success. Below are their favorite tips and examples.

Dr. Tara Uhler and residents from Wills Eye Institute
Pictured (bottom center): Dr. Tara Uhler and residents from Wills Eye Institute

Maximize your time
Practice just-in-time learning and focus on nuggets of information on an as-needed basis to maximize retention of information. Read pertinent material before lectures and after seeing patients. Study or complete research projects while on call. The time is already protected; friends and family know you’re unavailable. In-house calls may afford minimal time to study, but weekend at-home calls are an often under used opportunity. Stretches of 20 minutes between calls or visits can translate into several hours of downtime. If you spend part of each call in the library or nearby coffee shop, you’ll be more productive and impress ER and medicine by appearing so quickly when called!

Divide goals into bite-sized tasks and block time on your calendar

Example:
Goals:
Finish the glaucoma section of the Basic & Clinical Science Course (212 text pages) and 75 practice questions while on the glaucoma block. Prepare for next month’s grand rounds presentation.

Tasks and Times: Complete 15 pages and five questions each weekday for three weeks (15 weekdays). Arrive 30 minutes early to read uninterrupted in the auditorium. Complete five questions for 10 to 15 minutes before turning out the light each night. Use your home call next weekend to read articles and prepare a first draft of the presentation.

Don’t reinvent the wheel or suffer in silence
Seek advice. Ask upper level residents for tips regarding clinics, student resources and research projects. Pass along what you learn. Don’t waste time fretting or practicing ineffectively. You may fear you’re the only one struggling to see the scleral depressor, use the B-scan or suture a laceration. You’re not. A quick check-in with peers will reassure you, and early guidance from a trusted upper level will prevent hours of ineffective practice.

Maintain an attitude of gratitude
Remember how lucky you are to be an ophthalmology resident. Every encounter is a chance to learn. We’ve all had surgical mentors who lamented missing 50 percent of the cases because of being on call every other night! You don’t want to be fatigued, but you do want to maximize every opportunity. Adequate repetition and volume are critical. This is the time to see everything you can and practice under supervision.

Practice for practice
View residency as a group practice consisting of your co-residents, faculty and support staff. Whether it’s 12 a.m. or 12 p.m., treat everyone (patients, referring physicians, faculty, staff and operators) with respect and compassion. You will simultaneously learn, generate good will and earn an excellent reputation. Being available, affable and able are time-honored keys to success at every stage of any endeavor.

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About the author: Tara A. Uhler, MD, is director of resident education at Wills Eye Institute and president of the Program Directors Council of the Association of University Professors of Ophthalmology. Tara A. Uhler, MD 
 
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