The Advocacy Ambassador Program provides residents and those in fellowship training with an exciting opportunity to experience the Academy’s Mid-Year Forum alongside seasoned advocates and Academy leaders. Sponsored by societies and/or training programs, ambassadors also participate in a dedicated session just for them, L.E.A.P. Forward (Leadership, Engagement, Advocacy and Practice Management).
Below six Ambassadors share their biggest takeaways from an empowering event.
Samantha Sauerzopf, MD
Sponsored by the Pennsylvania Academy of Ophthalmology
Dr. Sauerzopf received her medical degree from the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson medical school in 2018. She is currently a rising third-year ophthalmology resident at Geisinger Eye Institute. In her second year of ophthalmology training, she joined the Pennsylvania Academy of Ophthalmology Young Ophthalmology committee and currently serves as their social media director. She plans on entering the glaucoma fellowship match this upcoming fall.
The L.E.A.P. Forward session provided succinct and achievable ways to get involved with advocacy and leadership. The two tips that stood out the most may initially seem to be quite obvious, but I know I had never personally reflected upon exactly what these meant prior to this session: Show up and speak up.
It never even occurred to me that I may have been missing out on opportunities just because I did not show up to an event. And it may seem simple but simply showing up — even when you may feel like you are not qualified or are not sure how you can contribute to the particular matter at hand — can open up so many doors. Just being present can allow for networking and career-building skills that you may not receive elsewhere.
And though this may take more time for those who are introverted, like myself, speak up! You may not have the same experience as everyone else around you but that can be a good thing. You’ve gone through so many years of training to get where you are today, and you bring your own unique perspective to the table. You are a valuable member of the team, and you should always remember that.
Rupak Bhuyan, MD
Sponsored by the New York State Ophthalmological Society
Dr. Bhuyan completed his medical degree at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. He is currently finishing his PGY-3 year of residency at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City and will be applying for a fellowship in vitreoretinal surgery.
During the breakout sessions of the L.E.A.P. Forward meeting, I asked how ophthalmology trainees and young ophthalmologists can be taken seriously as advocates when meeting with Congress. I had assumed that our relative inexperience as practitioners could be viewed as a disadvantage and create an unfavorable power dynamic. I was surprised by the responses I received from veteran advocates. They explained that YOs play a vital role precisely by virtue of our inexperience. We are intimately familiar with how eye care is delivered to patients right now, and policymakers recognize that.
In fact, legislators value input from YOs because they consider our perspectives uncolored by other priorities that may develop after years of practice. Furthermore, our time currently spent in hospitals interacting with and working alongside other specialties uniquely positions us to comment on how ophthalmic care fits into the greater landscape of healthcare.
I left the L.E.A.P. Forward meeting with a new sense of empowerment as a YO advocate. I no longer believe that we need to build up enough credibility as ophthalmologists to become serious advocates. The work we do now is just as meaningful as our efforts in the future. I don’t have to collect a certain number of hours or achievements to be given a certificate declaring me an advocate. I can — and will — start right now.
Sarah Carballo, MD
Sponsored by the Illinois Society of Eye Physicians and Surgeons
Dr. Carballo received her medical degree from the Chicago Medical School and is currently a chief resident and PGY-4 at Rush University in Chicago. Later this summer, she will begin her cornea and external disease fellowship at the Cincinnati Eye Institute.
During this year’s L.E.A.P. Forward session, we had the opportunity to hear from many leaders of the ophthalmology community, including one of my Rush University oculoplastic attendings, Dr. Tamara Fountain. Despite having the ability to learn from Dr. Fountain in the clinic and OR for the last few years, hearing her speak formally on the topic of leadership was a fresh and inspiring perspective. There were two huge takeaways I will always carry with me.
The first is the power of saying “yes” and using your voice to create opportunities for involvement, no matter your experience level. Everyone starts somewhere, often with some degree of “imposter syndrome,” but once you take that first step to get involved, use it! Speak up with your ideas, even if you’re not the most knowledgeable in the group. Great ideas can come from anywhere, and the best ones often come from a new take on an old issue.
The second takeaway was the candid discussion of her own personal and professional peaks and valleys. It’s okay for your initial plan to fail or not go the way you were expecting. Our careers will take on many different forms as we progress through life, and even the people we look up to today have been in our shoes and experienced their own setbacks in the past. You cannot compare your behind-the-scenes to someone else’s highlight reel!
Cliff Guyton, MD, MBA
Sponsored by the Emory University Eye Center
Dr. Guyton attended Emory University to complete an MD/MBA program and stayed on for his internship and residency. He’s approaching the end of his PGY-2 year and is undecided about a particular subspecialty fellowship.
The practice management portion of the L.E.A.P. Program stands out in my mind as being particularly useful for YOs, as Dr. Ruth Williams touched on some of the “softer” aspects of practice management, but in a very pointed and explicit way. For instance, I learned specific questions to ask when looking for a job (which is not talked about enough in medicine). For example, of course, there are questions about salary or reimbursement that affect your life outside of the office; however, as she pointed out, a significant portion of your life happens inside the office and finding the right people to work with can quite literally change your life.
To that end, we learned about ways to investigate the inner workings of the office before taking a job, including asking pointed questions that can help to bring out the culture of a practice even during a brief interview. My favorite question was “How are major decisions made within the practice?” The advice was specific and impactful and is underemphasized during medical school and residency.
Alexa Thibodeau, MD
Sponsored by the Michigan Society of Eye Physicians and Surgeons and University of Michigan WK Kellogg Eye Center
Dr. Thibodeau completed her medical degree at the Wayne State University School of Medicine and is currently a PGY-3 resident at the University of Michigan Kellogg Eye Center, where she serves as the resident representative for the Michigan Society of Eye Physicians and Surgeons. She will be applying for a cornea fellowship position later this year.
The L.E.A.P Forward session was a wonderful opportunity to learn from leaders in the field of ophthalmology about how to be a successful advocate for our patients and our profession. A common theme among speakers was their eagerness to say “yes” when presented with opportunities to advocate at different stages in their career, whether it be at the community, state society or national level. I learned that there is power in having a voice as an ophthalmologist, no matter how little experience you think you may have and that, even as a resident, our perspective is important for others to hear.
I was also inspired by Academy leadership and struck by how approachable and candid they were about sharing their personal stories and experiences. Drs. Tamara Fountain and Keith Carter, for example, touched on the importance of mentorship in achieving their personal and professional goals. As a resident, I feel fortunate that the field of ophthalmology is led by such individuals who are truly committed to providing YOs with the knowledge and tools they need to be effective leaders — the L.E.A.P. Forward session is evidence of that.
Emily Witsberger, MD
Sponsored by the Minnesota Academy of Ophthalmology and Mayo Clinic
Dr. Witsberger is currently a PGY-2 resident at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and is looking forward to applying for a cornea fellowship this fall.
The Mid-Year Forum experience left me feeling both informed and inspired, and the L.E.A.P. Forward program helped translate that inspiration into achievable actions. As a trainee, it can be easy to put off learning about policies and politics in our profession, when, in reality, it is never too early to start thinking about the professional relationships we will develop and how these might impact our careers.
One of the most important messages I took away was that young ophthalmologists do, indeed, have a voice in the issues that our profession currently faces, and we all have an important role to play. I now feel more empowered and emboldened to seek mentorship from the leaders I admire, become more involved in my state society and advocate for the integrity of our profession.