The global ophthalmology (GO) community is growing, and fast. With international involvement ranked as a top interest among residency applicants, it’s no surprise that so many global ophthalmology fellowships have sprung up over the past decade. Residents nearing the end of their training years have a prime opportunity to undertake global health work before settling into private practices or academic positions. With the looming threat of educational debt and the ethereal “light at the end of the tunnel” of medical training in sight, many ask why they should dedicate an entire year to public health endeavors. This is an exceptionally personal decision, but here are seven reasons to follow your passion.
1. Build relationships that will last a lifetime.
The year is short but the relationships you create domestically and abroad will far outlast your time in fellowship. Friendships initiated during knowledge and skills exchange are deepened by the connections forged while sharing dinner, touring the marketplace or enjoying chai breaks between cases in the operating room. Some of the most meaningful experiences of the fellowship happen outside the hospital. Improvements in global connectivity and international conference attendance ensure that these friendships will continue long after your fellowship ends.
2. You have a world of knowledge to offer.
As a fresh graduate preparing for your board exams, you have acquired the most up-to-date knowledge and are uniquely poised to share what you have learned with your colleagues abroad. Many training programs overseas have knowledge-hungry residents and ophthalmic personnel, but limited access to educators. Contributing to the academic, surgical and professional development of others is often a profound experience.
3. Train with giants in the global ophthalmology field.
Nobody expects you to solve health care disparities during your first year out of residency, but one of the most rewarding aspects of a global ophthalmology fellowship is working alongside ophthalmic leaders who excel at improving access to eye care. In addition to training under some of the best surgeons in India and sub-Saharan Africa, you will learn how these institutions bridge gaps to deliver high quality eye care to underserved populations.
4. Amplify your impact by training others.
Many GO fellowship grads will go on to spend long periods of time abroad, continuing to provide patient care and develop academic programs. Unless you plan to move permanently overseas, your biggest impact is often through the training of young ophthalmic providers and surgeons.
5. Become part of the global ophthalmology community.
Physicians have been engaging with low-resource communities abroad for decades, but only recently have these efforts consolidated into a defined subspecialty of global ophthalmology. Collaborations between institutions and organizations have created new opportunities to amplify our energy.
6. Gain the skills to start your own program.
Many fellowship grads have gone on to create their own projects and academic departments. GO training exposes fellows to program management and immerses them in a wide variety of projects. This experience propels many GO grads to develop their own groups after graduation.
7. Become the doctor who inspired you.
We have all been inspired by passionate and dedicated physician leaders. As those pioneers have shown, large aspirations start small and take years to develop. You will never be better equipped to begin this career than with the open mindset and energy that you have when finishing residency. This journey may position you as a leader capable of inspiring the next generation of surgeons.
The global health community is indeed growing rapidly, and in large part due to global ophthalmology fellowships. A GO fellowship isn’t the only way to make an impact or forge lasting relationships, but it is a significant springboard to greater involvement from the first days of your professional career. No matter how you choose to make an impact, do not forgo your opportunity to contribute expertise where it is needed the most.
About the Authors
||Brenton Finklea, MD, is the director of the Center for Academic Global Ophthalmology at the Wills Eye Hospital and a surgeon on the cornea service. He completed his residency and academic global ophthalmology fellowship at Wills Eye and his cornea and anterior segment fellowship at the Duke Eye Center.
||John Anhalt, MD, is the fellowship director for the Academic Global Ophthalmology Fellowship at the Wills Eye Hospital and a surgeon on the cataract and primary eye care services. He completed his residency and fellowship in academic global ophthalmology at Wills Eye Hospital.