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  • YO Learning Lounge: 4 Takeaways on Ophthalmology Trips Abroad

    Young ophthalmologist lounge

    During AAO 2022, UCLA’s Simon Fung, MD, and the Mayo Clinic’s Ashlie Bernhisel, MD, moderated a panel of ophthalmologists from around the world for the YO Learning Lounge session, “Global Ophthalmology — Flipping the Lens: The Host Experience.” They included John Kempen, MD, of Massachusetts Eye and Ear; Dr. Akwashi Ahmed, Rods and Cones Eyecare Services Ltd. in Ghana; and Dr. Usha Kim from Aravind Eye Hospital in India. Young ophthalmologist Angela J. Oh, MD, summarizes what she learned about making it easy for physicians to transition into new settings.

    The relationship between international institutions in ophthalmology — whether nongovernmental or educational organizations — can be difficult to define. It is important to create a connection in which collaborators find ways to mutually benefit from the process of teaching and learning. 

    Here are four tips for facilitating a symbiotic relationship in global ophthalmology exchanges, opportunities and workshops.

    1. Create a shared goal.

    Remember that all parties want to learn and benefit from the collaboration. This means the vision and goal must be discussed and decided together. Do not underestimate one another and be understanding of the limitations you may encounter at respective sites. Set expectations with clear guidelines to avoid conflict.

    There can be alternative methods or projects to try for trainees and physicians in all levels of practice. Even medical students can find ways to contribute. For example, if you are interested in video editing or photography, create a patient education video to enhance the health literacy of your patients.

    2. Be prepared for the local environment.

    Create an agenda. A few examples include arranging video calls prior to visiting to facilitate orientation or arriving with specific clinical questions to answer. Read about where you are going, the history, the culture, the food, etc. You may not be familiar with the heat of Ghana or the food in India, but keep an open mind and be willing to adjust to your surroundings.

    3. Support each other.

    What are ways we can support international scholars at our institutions? 

    Be inclusive of fellows and scholars visiting from institutions abroad. Being in a new country can be intimidating. Visiting scholars may not have encountered snow or know how to rent a car. The first couple weeks are always an adjustment period so help ease the transition period. Include fellows in grand rounds, research meetings and social outings. These scholars return home and share their experiences with their institutions, so it is important to continue fostering positive relationships and interactions. 

    4. Have a long-term plan.

    We discussed “parachute ophthalmology,” the idea that a physician can land in a developing country, perform a few surgeries and then leave. Global opportunities may initially revolve around surgical teaching and evaluating challenging patients who need further expertise. One may be well-intentioned, but these practices may not lead to long-term change. 

    There are ways to integrate global experiences into your practice and your academic life. Returning to sites can create long-lasting relationships. Having a clear five-year and 10-year plan can be helpful. Make sure to follow up and follow through with plans to the best of your ability.

    Does duration of visit matter? In reality, trainees and physicians can only visit for as little as two weeks. If you are prepared and have a skill to contribute, much can be achieved even in a short period of time.

    Participating in global ophthalmology in whatever capacity you can has the potential to change the way you think and how you practice. Traveling can not only be an educational experience but one that is memorable for life!


    Here are several resources to learn more about how to get involved in global ophthalmology.

    Angela J. Oh, MD About the author: Angela J. Oh, MD, is a second-year ophthalmology resident (PGY3) at the UCLA Jules Stein Eye Institute. She received her BA in neurobiology and visual environmental studies at Harvard and attended medical school at UCLA. She is interested in global ophthalmology, oncology and oculoplastics.