Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “Change is the only constant in life.”
After nearly 12 to 13 years of education (college, medical school, residency and/or fellowship), many of us recent graduates rejoice at the prospect of starting our first “real” job. We breathe a sigh of relief that the hardships and uncertainties of training are finally over. However, it is important to reflect and take a moment to realize that several new exciting yet daunting challenges lie ahead.
Ophthalmology is one of the most dynamic surgical subspecialties, and with the constant introduction of new technologies and techniques, newly minted “attending” surgeons must be ready to adapt to the constant innovations and changes that come our way. Early adoption of new tools and tricks will not only augment our expertise, but also enable us to provide cutting-edge care for our patients.
How do we stay up-to-date and relevant? Here are some easy pearls.
1. Attend meetings and wet labs
Many of my mentors have advised me that they have garnered a wealth of information by taking the time out of their hectic schedules to attend meetings in their first one to five years of practice.
Become an active member of the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) and your state ophthalmology society. Your subspecialty society, with which the Academy partners on many educational and advocacy efforts, can also be a valuable resource and includes the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery (ASCRS), the American Society of Ophthalmic Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (ASOPRS), the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus (AAPOS), the American Society of Retina Specialists (ASRS), the Cornea Society, among others.
Try to attend smaller meetings aimed at your area of focus that allow you to meet and network with like-minded colleagues. Identify the gaps in your knowledge base and register for wet labs to practice new skills in a controlled environment with the oversight of more senior and experienced surgeons. Attend talks that focus on the implementation of new technologies or devices and determine if they would be applicable to your practice and patient population. Speak with other physicians to better understand how to incorporate these new devices or techniques into your clinical practice and discuss the potential pitfalls you may experience.
2. Academy website resources
The Academy’s Ophthalmic News and Education (ONE®) Network, available to all members, provides young surgeons with numerous educational resources that can be of immense value during their first few years of practice.
A variety of clinical and surgical videos as well as pre-recorded webinars are offered that you can browse through. These videos highlight routine as well as novel surgical techniques and feature interviews with specialists who offer clinical pearls on the diagnosis and management of various conditions or surgical scenarios. There are also collections of interactive cases and self-assessments that you can use to improve your understanding of certain topics.
Not only do you have access to full text articles in many major ophthalmology journals but you can also read editors’ choice articles. These articles cogently summarize interesting peer-reviewed manuscripts that can be quickly accessed to stay up-to-date with the ophthalmic literature. Carving out time once or twice weekly or even monthly to review these resources can be extremely beneficial.
3. Speak to your medical device representatives
If you are interested in using a new device, the representatives from the company that manufactures the device can be a wealth of information. Representatives can often hold wet lab demonstrations prior to your surgical day to help you practice and get familiar with using the technology.
They can also provide you with training videos to reference and study and will also accompany you to the operating room and coach you through your first several cases. They have likely observed several surgeons before you utilize the technology and can provide you with insights on what maneuvers or techniques are helpful versus detrimental. If you exhibit a genuine enthusiasm to try new technologies and products, representatives will automatically gravitate towards you and help you continually grow and expand your arsenal of therapeutic options for your patients.
4. Seek mentorship
Education doesn’t end after training but continues throughout your career. Seek out the mentorship of senior partners in your practice as you start to build your patient base and begin operating. Recruit ideal candidates for your first handful of cases and request your partners to accompany you to the operating room if possible when you perform your first few cases using a new device, product or technique.
Ask your partners for advice on challenges they experienced during their first 10 to 20 cases and create a plan of attack if you were to encounter these same difficulties. Preparation will never fail you.
The first few years of practice will pose educational opportunities far greater than what you may experience in training. By being a self-driven learner with a positive and open mind-set, you can seamlessly incorporate new technologies and techniques into your clinical and surgical practice.
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About the author:
Nandini Venkateswaran, MD, completed her residency at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute/University of Miami in 2019. She then completed a fellowship in cornea, external disease and refractive surgery at Duke University in 2020. She will be joining the cornea faculty at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary in September 2020 where she will be seeing patients primarily at the Waltham satellite office.