Ophthalmology residency training programs can be demanding. Often, residents “miss the trees for the forest.” The skills developed during this phase of our careers will set the foundation of our future lives in ophthalmology. Listed below is a selection of helpful guidelines to help you focus on the trees to develop your own forest, thereby becoming an efficient and content young ophthalmologist.
- Be an advocate for your patients. We entered medicine to enhance patient quality of life, so strive to educate your patients: direct them toward support systems such as Commission for the Blind and assist them in completing insurance paperwork. By spending even a few additional minutes, we can confer enormous advancements to our patients’ vision and quality of life. As ambassadors for our vocation, it is our responsibility to emphasize patient advocacy and set a precedent for the medical community at large.
- Establish camaraderie with your colleagues. Medicine is not practiced in a vacuum, hence collegiality should be actively embraced. Make an effort to socialize with co-residents, residents at other training programs, technicians and ophthalmic photographers. Resident education should be facilitated within a forum of sharing. Voicing opinions, trading knowledge and cultivating collaborations should all be pursued.
- Learn from the clinics. Often, clinic responsibilities can be overwhelming, resulting in residents not being able to maximize their educational potential. For example, a busy clinic schedule may preclude your ability to learn on the job. Attempt to ask relevant questions when presenting the patient to your attending. In addition, keep a logbook of interesting patients and read up on their eye diseases. Outstanding sources including online videos, review articles and Academy-distributed literature. Work hard, but work smart as well.
- Attend state and national meetings. Most residency programs encourage residents to present research at state and national ophthalmology association meetings (e.g., your state ophthalmology society, the Academy and the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, etc.) and provide educational stipends. Discuss this with your program coordinator and senior residents. These meetings provide an excellent venue for establishing good rapport with colleagues, both national and international, thereby fostering clinical and research collaborations. In addition, these semi-vacations allow you to relax and enjoy all that the host city has to offer.
- Be a keen photographer. It goes without saying that ophthalmology is a visual discipline. Through images, be it fluorescein angiography or optical coherence tomography, we can better understand pathology and enhance patient care. Also, photographs are invaluable assets to resident educational conferences and research endeavors. Visit with your photography department and learn how to operate the equipment and better understand the techniques behind the tests you are ordering.
- Make time for yourself. Try to follow the mantra of work hard, play hard, and spend time focusing on your other interests besides managing corneal ulcers, finding retinal detachments and performing blepharoplasty. Attempt to integrate personal interests with ophthalmology. This will allow you to live a healthier and more productive life, both in and out of the clinic. Many colleagues of mine have traveled to South America, Nepal, Mexico and India to experience a new culture and learn how ophthalmology is practiced in developing nations — priceless experiences, to say the least.
- Use research as an incentive to learn. Research endeavors should not be a chore. Whether or not you plan on pursuing a career in academic ophthalmology, residency should be a time where you strive to push the research envelope. Whether it be an electronic survey assessing views on health literacy in diabetic retinopathy patients, analyzing changes in macular morphology after retinal-detachment surgery or laboratory studies, ophthalmic research offers great amounts of variety. Also, this is great way to fulfill pearls two, four and six, above.
- Be a mentor. Medical school does not place much emphasis on the eye. Get involved with the ophthalmology interest group at your institution and provide prospective young ophthalmologists with insight into our field. In particular, try to assist medical students with vision screenings in the community and organize educational seminars. Teaching others is often the best way to learn.
- Primum non nocere. Residents are not expected to know everything. Therefore, never attempt to blindly manage patients without understanding the “why” behind the treatment. We have all found ourselves prescribing eyedrops or ointments without understanding the complete science involved. By following this basic tenant of our profession and focusing on evidenced-based practice, we can become better patient advocates and gain self-satisfaction through improved outcomes.
- Get involved with YO activities. This is an outstanding branch of several state ophthalmology societies and the Academy that strives to enhance the educational and social experience of residency training. Writing articles for YO Info has now become a fond interest of mine, and something I look forward to doing throughout my career. I encourage you to keep an eye out for YO sessions at national meetings and come make some new friends!
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About the author: Hemang K. Pandya, MD, is a resident at the Kresge Eye Institute, Detroit, Mich. His clinical interests include health literacy, medical ethics and vitreoretinal research. In his spare time, he enjoys wildlife photography, snowboarding and visiting UNESCO World Heritage Sites.