June 28 marked the first live joint YO international virtual session at the World Ophthalmology Congress. Although we would have loved to have all met up in person, the global COVID-19 pandemic thwarted our efforts. Nonetheless, there was a lively discussion among Marie Louise Roed Rasmussen, MD, from Denmark, Bayanda Mbambisa, MD, from South Africa and Grace Sun, MD, from the United States.
Each doctor gave their distinct perspective, with Dr. Rasmussen discussing her experience with YO societies, Dr. Mbambisa providing a glimpse into the life of a YO in South Africa and Dr. Sun sharing Academy resources available to YOs around the world.
Below are 7 tips from Dr. Rasmussen about how to start your own YO organization.
1. Find a group of loyal fellow YOs.
This core group would be people you’d like to work and reflect with for years. Strategically, these friends should be geographically distributed, to ensure that your society has an anchor in all corners of a region or country.
2. Survey the landscape.
What are the current alternative organizations? Are there regional YO chapters, a mandate from the national society for a YO committee or other competing YO societies? If the answer is “yes,” then very carefully consider why you think a new society is needed. It’s almost never worth the trouble to ignore existing interests and can be to members’ benefit to unify them into one strong society. Think about these people as valuable partners who already have a huge interest in this field. Unification is key to success. Inform relevant societies about your plan.
3. Define your WHY.
There can be a variety of good reasons to create a YO organization. The aims can vary from political to educational or the purpose might be to strengthen networks. For early-career physicians, specifically, education is often a strong driving force for societal membership — the desire to locate the best ophthalmic training for the care of future patients, for example, is often overwhelming in YO societies. Networking is also crucial. Ophthalmology is a small community, and the network that young ophthalmologists create early on is beneficial for the duration of their careers. However, although these interests dovetail, as a start-up organization, it is often beneficial to focus on one main goal. Use that focus to define your first event — for example, organize a journal club, a YO night/reception, a YO session or a constitutional assembly. Once the first event is complete, it’s time for evaluation and planning for the next one!
4. Get a seat at the table.
If you’re successful at this, you can make a real impact. A seat on a national educational committee is valuable, even as an observer. This is the place where political decisions are made about residency curricula, the size of training programs and other key elements. In some countries, the educational committee is also the place where they hire the new residents!
5. Don’t overlook the nuts and bolts.
My most important piece of advice is to create bylaws that clearly define how your society should be structured. This should include rules for membership, registration and fees. Think about leadership: Who should be in charge of this association? A chair or a board of trustees? Will it host open, free elections or promote members through nominations? Which positions are elected and what are the term lengths? Planning at the outset will help your organization avoid painful moments in the future. Structural transparency is of significant value in the long run.
6. Evaluate your independence.
Another important thing to debate is whether you prefer an independent organization or serving under your own national society. Working with the national society can ease your path tremendously. You can lean on an already-established membership, administrative network and communication channels, besides the more likely presence of financial support. However, an independent organization is free of others’ political will and influence — this is the chosen structure, for example, in Denmark. Although it is more work, this educational, political and economic freedom can be incredibly valuable.
7. Stay patient.
Finally, if you are the one starting a YO society, you should know to be patient! You may have to invest a significant portion of your time as an early-career ophthalmologist in order to complete your vision. But the knowledge and friendships will last for life.
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About the authors:
Marie Louise Roed Rasmussen, MD, PhD, is an oculoplastics specialist in Copenhagen, Denmark. She is the immediate past chair of the European Society of Ophthalmology (SOE) YO Committee and past member of the Academy’s YO International subcommittee. She is passionate about global ophthalmology and organizational leadership. Grace Sun, MD, is a comprehensive ophthalmologist at Weill Cornell in New York, NY. She is the immediate past chair of the Academy’s YO International subcommittee and past member of the European Society of Ophthalmology YO Committee. She has been involved in global ophthalmology since residency.