• Education, Diversity, Advocacy: 2021 Academy President Tamara Fountain, MD, on What YOs Can Expect This New Year

    As the page turns to 2021, we find ourselves (still) digging out from what the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked — masking is still a part of our daily lives, hunting down personal protective equipment remains a necessity, managing disrupted workflows is a never-ending challenge. And it’s become glaringly obvious that — like many other facets of American life — we don’t yet know the permanence of these changes.

    See a slide show of Tamara Fountain, MD, and her milestones with the Academy.

    But what we do know is the Academy will adapt and double down on our mission to protect sight and empower lives. That’s our recipe, our guiding light. It’s achieved through the training of residents, through correcting systemic inequalities, through advocacy efforts and through the elevation of our younger generation of physicians.

    Virtual Learning

    Our experience training ophthalmology residents at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago is unique in many ways — we’re a volunteer faculty of private practitioners, for one. However, it does shed some light on what the future has in store. In the early days of the pandemic, when many clinics were shut down, our residents were backing up other medical wards because of personnel shortages. 

    But despite redeployment as super-interns, they still needed to maintain their training. So in stepped residency program directors across the country to establish robust digital platforms for delivering virtual educational content. All parties ate it up. Why? It turns out that eliminating a commute can make teaching and learning significantly easier. 

    For example, before the pandemic, our faculty would deliver resident lectures in clinic every morning between 8 and 9 a.m. — but the timing was increasingly difficult for many attendings because of their private practice obligations. So here comes the pandemic and we’re forced to push lecture content through a Zoom channel. The result was unexpected. Attendings, freed from the commute to the hospital, were now fighting for lecture spots while faculty attendance at monthly grand rounds quadrupled. These pedagogical innovations will no doubt continue to inform how we train in the future.

    Advocacy

    The pandemic has also created new ways to promote our profession and our patients at the policy level. Thanks to the power of the now-ubiquitous video call, it’s easier than ever to meet with legislators. We no longer have to venture out to town halls or make visits at fundraisers dotted across the map. 

    And the Academy is here to help you take advantage of these virtual meet-and-greets with your local representatives. For young ophthalmologists especially, we have all the tools at hand — we can let you know who they are, where they are and how to get in touch with them. That’s the raison d'être of our DC office. So for those who haven’t already dipped your toes in these advocacy efforts, this is yet another Academy resource that’s ripe with opportunity.

    Diversity

    The year 2020 also taught us the power of inclusion — not only in our personal and professional lives, but in our patient relationships as well. More and more, we’re seeing how important it is for health care providers to reflect the various cultural, ethnic, sexual, gender, religious and language differences in our increasingly diverse patient population. After all, we know that patients have better health outcomes when they are compliant with physician recommendations, and they’re more likely to be compliant with these recommendations if they trust their physicians. 

    In a sense, we’re detectives. A patient presents to us with a mystery that we have to solve. They’re the witness, and we don’t want the evidence to be filtered because there’s a lack of familiarity and kinship. But as a country, we tend not to surround ourselves with people who are different — we generally live and interact with people who look like we do, or at the very least, share our politics, socioeconomic background and language. At a time when the most common eye diseases are disproportionately affecting people of color, it’s our duty as doctors to embrace what makes us different, recognize the disparities in our society and help narrow the gaps.

    Moving Forward

    I came away from 2020 truly in awe of our younger generation. I’m grateful for how socially active they’ve become in advocating for just causes, and I feel very strongly that our young ophthalmologists will use this activism to forge a profession that is more global, more sound and more equitable. 

    In many ways, the Academy is at ground zero, and it’s apparent that YOs are ready to take the mantle. For example, many of us were upset when the pandemic forced last year’s annual meeting to go virtual. Would it still fulfill our purpose? YOs answered with a resounding “yes.” Of course, we all expressed a nostalgia for getting back together physically, walking past friends in the cavernous hallways, giving a quick hug to somebody you haven’t seen since residency. But YOs proved to us the power of on-demand educational content, pushing us for anytime access to the best ophthalmic resources on the planet.

    As we move forward, you all will be front and center at the table. We want to give you agency because your voice is important. You learn differently than older generations. You view medicine — and the world — differently. And the Academy will continue to empower you through our committees and our educational programming. Your voice matters and your insight is vital. So I encourage all young ophthalmologists to stand up and speak up, because we’re listening.

    About the author: Tamara R. Fountain, MD, is a professor of ophthalmology at Rush University Medical Center and an oculoplastic surgeon who runs her own practice in Illinois. Her very first Academy position was an appointment to the YO Committee 25 years ago as a fellow. “That’s where I got my start with the Academy and began my improbable journey up to this moment. I got appointed because a former med school classmate was rotating off and she thought it would be something I’d really enjoy.” Fifteen years later, Dr. Fountain began serving as the Academy’s Secretary for Membership. “What I loved most about this gig was the excuse to oversee the YO group and pretend (at heart anyway), that I was a YO again.” One of her greatest honors occurred shortly thereafter. “When I finished my term, the YOs honored me with a ‘Lifetime YO’ certificate granting me access to all of the Global YO Receptions for the rest of my life. I have that certificate framed in my office — it might be one of my most treasured gifts. Really.”