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  • Networking, Mentorship, and Giving: Lessons Learned at Mid-Year Forum 2024

    Mary-Grace Reeves, MD, MBA, on Capitol Hill

    The Academy’s Mid-Year Forum is a valuable reminder of our role in serving our patients as clinicians and surgeons but also as advocates. Here are some tips I’ve learned over the years to make the most of what this meeting offers:

    See a slide show of Dr. Reeve's photos from Mid-Year Forum 2024.

    Sit at a Table Where You Know No One

    As we found our places at the Advocacy Ambassador Program L.E.A.P. Forward session, the program moderators urged us to sit with colleagues whom we had not yet met. 

    Without a doubt, it is intimidating to initiate a conversation with someone you do not know. However, I found that these spontaneous introductions and casual conversations blossomed into some of my favorite moments at Mid-Year Forum. These interactions led to endearing discussions about memories of the training experience others had at my residency program decades ago and impromptu mentoring chats with more senior ophthalmologists. 

    Ophthalmology is a tight-knit community. In fact, there are only about 18,000 of us in the United States. We are united in our commitment to vision care and ocular health for our patients. The next time you find yourself at a conference, be brave and set a goal to meet someone new. Years down the road, you may find that they have become a close friend or mentor.

    Advisers, Mentors, and Sponsors … Oh, My! 

    As ophthalmologists, we complete 12 or more years of education and training following graduation from high school. At each step, we may have been guided by the unique insight of an advisor, inspired by a mentor, or advocated for by a sponsor who supported us when we were not in the room. I am especially grateful to my mentors Arsham Sheybani, MD, and Steven M. Couch, MD, FACS, who helped me attend Mid-Year Forum for the first time. 

    During the L.E.A.P. Forward session, we discussed the persistent challenge of achieving work-life balance (if it exists at all) and leaning on more senior ophthalmologists to lend their perspective as we chart our own paths. Mentorship does not have to be a one-size-fits-all experience. You can seek out different mentors for different aspects of your career.

    Applying for an early career grant for research funding? Talk to your mentor, the master clinician scientist. Considering building your own practice? Check in with your mentor who founded a private practice 10 years ago. As Young Ophthalmologists (YOs) nearing the completion of our training, it’s a good idea to discuss key topics like choosing between a career in academics versus private practice, blocking out and protecting research time, negotiating your salary, and determining clinic workflow with a trusted more senior clinician.

    Pay It Forward

    In that same vein, YOs early in their careers already have the chance to mentor students or junior trainees. As we progress in our training, we have more opportunities to engage with and set an example for the next generation of ophthalmologists. 

    In addition to clinical and research mentorship, our contributions to the Academy’s advocacy funds (Surgical Scope Fund and OPHTHPAC®), help maintain the high standards of care in our specialty for our patients and for future YOs. The Surgical Scope Fund focuses on state-level issues and ensuring patient safety through Surgery by Surgeons. OPHTHPAC is the Academy’s political action committee charged with keeping our federal lawmakers abreast of our specialty’s policy concerns.

    Although our ability to contribute financially may be more limited during training, every dollar helps to ensure that the important policy issues for which we advocate are at the forefront of our legislators’ efforts in D.C.

    Veterans’ Health

    On a personal note, I come from a military family. My father was a naval officer who served for 30 years, and my grandfather began his lengthy Navy career as a pilot in World War II. 

    I have witnessed the sacrifices that the members of our military make to protect our country. The members of our armed forces deserve access to the finest quality of medical care through our Veterans Health Administration. 

    Recently, the quality of patient care and ophthalmology’s scope of practice has come under attack in the Department of Veterans Affairs Health Care system. There’s a proposal to broaden the guidelines that currently allow only ophthalmologists to perform laser eye procedures. If these changes are implemented, it could allow nonophthalmologists to perform eye surgery and laser procedures on veterans. Ophthalmologists’ ability to safely perform procedures such as orbital, intraocular, and laser surgery is achieved through four years of clinical and surgical residency following four years of medical school, sometimes paired with additional fellowship training.  

    Alternative weekend laser seminars simply do not equate when considering the clinical expertise and dexterity necessary to manage these delicate procedures and their complications. Contributing to OPHTHPAC and the Surgical Scope Fund ensures ophthalmologists continue to have a voice on these important issues.

    Finally, I’ve realized that advocacy is not limited to a single day’s worth of marching around Capitol hill — it’s a yearlong and lifelong endeavor. I’ll continue to work with my local, state, and national organizations to continue advancing vision care even after the Mid-Year Forum meetings end.

    ReevesAbout the author: Mary-Grace Reeves, MD, MBA, is a PGY-3 ophthalmology resident at Washington University in St. Louis. She earned her undergraduate degree from Harvard College and graduated with MD and MBA degrees from Stanford University as an Arjay Miller Scholar. She attended Mid-Year Forum 2024 as an Advocacy Ambassador jointly sponsored by the Missouri Society of Eye Physicians and Surgeons and Women in Ophthalmology.

    A Day on Capitol Hill