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  • H. Dunbar Hoskins Jr., MD: A Tribute

    Dunbar Hoskins, Jr., MD, died on Jan. 27, 2024 at age 84 after transforming the Academy into an international association.

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    H. Dunbar Hoskins, Jr., MD

    For almost a half century, the leadership of the American Academy of Ophthalmology has been blessed with extraordinary leaders. It has been my distinct pleasure to have been involved in the life of the Academy during this period.

    Bruce Spivey, MD, became the Academy’s first executive vice president following its separation from the American Academy of Otolaryngology in the mid-1970s. His early experience in the Academy was related to educational programs, and his legacy is the recognition of the primacy of the Academy’s initiatives in lifelong learning. His leadership was also integral in the merger of the Academy and the American Association of Ophthalmology which expanded the role of the Academy as the leader of organized ophthalmology both nationally and internationally. Dr. Spivey realized that the broadened mission of the Academy required a fresh look. He convened a committee to deal with organizational redesign that marked an important chapter in the Academy’s history.

    David Parke, II, MD, became the CEO of the Academy and almost immediately began to develop the IRIS® Registry (Intelligent Research in Sight), the nation’s first comprehensive eye disease clinical registry, which has emerged as a valuable resource for ophthalmologists world-wide. He was also instrumental in making the Truhlsen-Marmor Museum of the Eye® a reality. David led us through one of the most trying periods in our history. His management of the Academy’s daily business and through the trials and tribulations of successfully guiding the annual meeting during COVID-19 epidemic required uncommon skills.

    The tradition of outstanding leaders of the Academy has now been passed to CEO Stephen McLeod, MD. There is little doubt that he will continue in the footsteps of his predecessors to wisely guide the Academy. We as a profession are very fortunate to have had and continued to have such eminent colleagues as leaders of our Academy.

    Dunbar was the essential link between the Spivey and Parke eras. I was among those privileged to have served as an Academy president under Dunbar’s tutelage. All who knew and admired him learned early on that once he had envisioned a goal, its outcome was assured. He guided our steps to make the vision a reality. Dunbar was a visionary whose concept of the Academy was for it to be the prime resource for data, information, and education. He inherited a new, untested organizational format, drawn from the Committee on Organizational Redesign. Undaunted, he created a structural hierarchy to ensure departmental productivity and fashioned a business model that put the Academy on a firm financial footing.

    Although the term quality eye care was often bandied about, Dunbar felt a responsibility to ensure that each ophthalmologist had the knowledge “to do it right the first time.” On more than one occasion I heard him say that this was the most effective and efficient way to deliver care. The impetus for the ONE® (Ophthalmic News and Education Network) was to improve the quality of care globally, by making educational materials available to all ophthalmologists irrespective of geography, particularly those with fewer resources. This was a true labor of love that was spawned through his initiative, and although it depended on many volunteer ophthalmologists, it bore his imprimatur.

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    President’s dinner during the 1997 Academy meeting in San Francisco. Pictured left to right: Merilee Obstbaum, H. Dunbar Hoskins Jr., MD,
    and Stephen Obstbaum, MD.

    Some aspects of organizational redesign presented challenges to governance. The Academy Council was accustomed to having regional meetings several times each year. The Committee on Organizational Redesign evaluated the utility of the frequency and costs related to this plan and determined that an alternative would be desirable.

    Over lunch, several of us pondered the alternatives and concluded that a mid-year meeting of the council in Washington, D.C., might be a viable solution. When we presented this suggestion to Dunbar, he seized on it immediately. Although the current format of the Mid-Year Forum has further evolved, the success of this annual event was a direct consequence of Dunbar’s enthusiastic acceptance and leadership.

    Dunbar was a data-driven individual and embraced the concept of evidence-based medicine. He was instrumental in developing the National Eyecare Outcomes Network for Cataract Surgery (NEON) study, a computer-based registry that obtained data in real time. This project was well ahead of its time but encountered technical difficulties that forced its demise, yet the concept was sound and appropriate. This nascent idea matured into the IRIS Registry, perhaps the most effective data collection and analysis instruments in all of medicine.

    Even as he served in his executive role at the Academy, Dunbar found time to continue to minister to his patients as an attentive, caring physician. He was an outstanding ophthalmologist and glaucoma specialist and took great pride in caring for his patients. As he said, “Treat your patients as if they were your best friend.”

    He acknowledged that he was greatly influenced by his mentor and colleague Robert Schaffer, MD, a prominent leader in our field and an extraordinary role model. Dunbar extended that same outlook to his colleagues. We were the beneficiaries of his wisdom and guidance. I recall a personal situation when his tactful recommendations to me resulted in a positive outcome to a contentious situation. Simply telling me to soften my stance and become more receptive of another’s point of view without necessarily altering my own won the day.

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    My gratitude to Dunbar following his gracious and generous introduction.

    Dunbar had an uncanny ability to support the goals each of us aspired to achieve during our presidential year. He made each of us look good. His support and encouragement made each of us perform better. Dunbar was a wonderful friend whom I greatly admired and whom I will miss.