• The Future of Retina: New Mentorship, Research Programs on Diversity

    The American Society of Retina Specialists (ASRS) and its Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) committee is working to increase the number of retina specialists who are underrepresented in medicine (URiM). 

    The Association of American Medical Colleges defines the group as those populations that are underrepresented in the medical profession relative to their numbers in the general population. This includes Blacks or African Americans, Hispanics or Latinos, American Indians or Alaska Natives, native Hawaiians or other Pacific Islanders, Southeast Asians (for example, Cambodian, Laotian, Vietnamese, Hmong, Filipino) and individuals who identify as LGBTQIA+. 

    Currently, the number of retina specialists in the society that are underrepresented falls far short of the percentage of minorities in the United States and far short of the percentage of minorities that we treat. Diversity in retina means that all backgrounds, beliefs, ethnicities and perspectives are adequately represented. 

    Studies have shown that the groups mentioned above are severely underrepresented in medicine. Although ASRS is still collecting baseline data, anecdotal evidence shows the retina field and our patients would benefit from having access to more specialists from diverse backgrounds. Our foremost goal is to increase the participation of minorities in ophthalmology and the field of retina. 

    By attracting and training more underrepresented minorities in ophthalmology and the field of retina, ASRS hopes to improve access to retina care to those persons from underserved backgrounds and areas with limited access to retina specialists.

    New Research and Mentorship Programs

    In response to these challenges, the ASRS and its diversity committee have launched research and mentorship programs geared towards trainees who identify as coming from underrepresented communities. The research component includes performing retrospective analysis of landmark studies to determine outcomes and participation rates amongst minority patients. 

    Researchers hope to highlight some of the disparities our patients face in access and management of their complex retinal diseases, while providing research opportunities to residents and medical students who participate. 

    The exciting and innovative mentorship program will seek medical students with a commitment to ophthalmology, as well as ophthalmology residents that have a keen interest in the field of retina. These mentees will be paired with junior and senior retina specialists from academia and private practice.

    Although all mentees will be from underrepresented groups, the mentor role will be filled by ASRS members who have an interest in diversifying the field and in serving as a positive role model to a mentee. Preference will be given to mentees who have experienced economic hardships growing up; those who are or whose parents are first-generation immigrants; those whose parents/guardians didn’t have the opportunity for advanced education; and those from geographic underserved locations.

    Drs. Vivienne Hau and Keith Warren, co-chairs of the ASRS diversity committee spoke at a 2021 ASRS annual meeting luncheon about their efforts to recruit members of underrepresented communities.

    The mentorship is based around a “family” concept. A mentee will be grouped into a mentorship family which will consist of two mentees and four mentors. The family will then participate in a series of five professional-led mentor/mentee shared leadership experiences, it is the hope and expectation that life-long professional relationships will be formed and that mentees will ultimately decide to follow the career path of becoming a retina specialist.

    ASRS has committed to financial support of the mentees via travel grants to the July 2022 ASRS meeting and the Academy’s annual meeting in Chicago. Three additional mentorship sessions will be held virtually in June 14, Nov. 22 and Jan. 25, 2023. Applications for both mentees and mentors can be accessed on the ASRS website. Completed applications will be due to ASRS by May 30. Successful candidates will be informed of the status of their application soon after, in time for the first virtual session in June.

    Underrepresentation in medicine has far-reaching implications for the profession of medicine and the communities we serve. Addressing this multigenerational problem will require the collaboration of our national societies and the undivided attention of our physicians.

    We hope that by fostering and creating a cross-cultural and inclusive mentorship program that we might build a bridge toward a more unified, better equipped speciality that can more effectively serve our communities as a whole. 

    The American Society of Retina Specialists is also a bronze level sponsor of the Minority Ophthalmology Mentoring Program,a partnership of the American Academy of Ophthalmology and the Association of University Professors of Ophthalmology (AUPO). 

    About the authors: Nathaniel Roybal, MD., PhD, is a vitreoretinal surgeon and owner of Retina Consultants of New Mexico.  He serves as a mentor and clinical faculty at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine. He is a native New Mexican and is interested in health care access for individuals from rural and underrepresented backgrounds. 
    Courtney M. Crawford, MD, FASRS,  is CEO at Star Retina in Burleson, Texas. He completed his internship and residency in ophthalmology at Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma, Wash. and his fellowship in vitreoretinal disease and Surgery at Tufts Medical Center/Ophthalmic Consultants of Boston.