After medical school, I was lucky enough to spend a year doing research with Dr. Ike Ahmed and his team in Toronto before starting ophthalmology residency at McGill University in Montreal.
I have also been involved with the Canadian Council of Ophthalmology Residents, where I interacted with colleagues and faculty across the country. This has helped me better understand how interconnected we are as trainees and how similar our challenges are irrespective of our level of training or where we are completing residency.
Here are five transformative lessons I learned that will help you take your residency training experience to the next level:
1. Residency is a fantastic time to figure out your strengths (and weaknesses!).
Think of residency as a series of short experiments. The best way to find out what you’re good at and what you like is by trying things that make you uncomfortable. Consider starting a journal club or a retina imaging educational series at your program. Interested in debating hot topics? Check out the new app Clubhouse and consider joining or starting a channel. Whether it’s global health, research, medical education, artificial intelligence, entrepreneurship or surgical innovation, you won’t know if it’s for you if you don’t dabble in it a little bit. By focusing on certain pursuits for a short period of time, you can find out a lot about yourself in terms of what does and doesn’t suit you.
2. We are currently in an ophthalmology education boom.
The pandemic has inspired an unprecedented revolution in resident education. The biggest names in our field are regularly conducting free high quality educational webinars online. The Prism Eye Rounds and the Wills Eye webinars are two great examples. In addition, the advent of resident educational podcasts such as “eyes-4-ears” means that we can learn something new in ophthalmology every time we go for a walk or drive to work.
3. Work with your peers.
Throughout university and medical school, we are taught to work hard, strive to be the best we can, and excel in what we do. I believe collaboration is not stressed enough. No matter how good each of us are in a particular area of ophthalmology or medicine, there is much to be gained from seeking the opinion and working with colleagues on challenging cases in clinic and in surgery. Even when it comes to learning basic concepts, the simple act of discussing a topic with a colleague can be tremendously helpful in solidifying your understanding of it.
As part of my preparation for the Canadian Royal College Examination in Ophthalmology, I found regular study sessions over Zoom (with colleagues across the country) to be the single best way to retain and understand concepts. Even in surgery, the time I invited a co-resident (in the same year of training) to “supervise” me (or vice-versa) turned out to be a remarkably educational experience for both of us.
4. Some stress is healthy.
Residency is challenging. We not only have to learn ophthalmology, but also build our professional personas. You may catch yourself pondering: What kind of doctor am I? Is surgery for me? Am I smart enough for this? At what point will I feel more confident in clinic/in the OR? Why can’t I seem to grasp this or that concept? Why am I still anxious the day before surgery?
Although we don’t like to feel uncertain or even outright incompetent, self-reflection and the occasional feeling of doubt can be a great motivator for us to become better doctors. In fact, the purpose of your residency training shouldn’t be to get your questions answered, but to eventually dare to ask bigger questions: Am I an early or late adopter of technology? How can I contribute to the field and to my patients in a way that aligns with my strengths and my values? How will I contribute to shaping the next few years of ophthalmic practice locally and around the world?
5. Giving back can be very rewarding.
We all want to do more phaco surgeries. We want to publish. We went to get the best job. We want to contribute. As we ride wave after wave of accomplishment and excitement, we sometimes forget where we started. We are on a career path with many colleagues, some of whom are ahead of us, and many of whom are just starting their journey.
Connecting with medical students and junior resident colleagues can be fulfilling both to you and to them. If you learn that a resident matched to your program, take time to write them a personalized email to welcome them and offer your contact information in case they need something. If you just matched to fellowship, hold a session for your junior colleagues about your application experience and what can be learned from it.
If there’s an ophthalmology interest group at the medical school affiliated with your program, reach out to them and offer an opportunity to shadow you or work on their slit lamp skills under your supervision. You will be surprised how refreshing and invigorating giving back can be, and how much of an impact you can make on peoples’ lives with one simple act of kindness.
The Academy’s YO Info Editorial Board is collaborating with YO leaders from our subspecialty, specialized interest and national society partners and thanks the Canadian Ophthalmological Society (COS) Executive Director and CEO Elisabeth Fowler for recommending the author for this article. COS will hold its annual meeting and exhibition June 24-27.
||About the authors: Majd Mustafa, MD, is an ophthalmology resident at McGill University in Montreal and an incoming cornea fellow at Tulane University in New Orleans. He currently serves as the president of Canadian Council of Ophthalmology Residents.