My first experience learning about surgery in Nepal was exhilarating and astounding. It was also the first time I watched both of my gloved hands burst into flames.
Three weeks earlier, I stepped off a plane in Kathmandu, Nepal, naive and eager to learn how the country’s ophthalmologists reversed a tide of blindness.
In low-income countries, each year brings more blindness than the year before, except in Nepal. This extraordinary success came from dedicated ophthalmologists, innovative delivery models and a fierce commitment to the underserved.
Among these dedicated ophthalmologists is Dr. Bidya Pant, known at the time as the highest-volume cataract surgeon in the world. In a remote Nepal village, we operated side by side, he an artful master and me, a painstakingly meticulous learner. I marveled at an unhurried, elegant, efficient surgery, at how a small flame could be used to heat an instrument for cautery and how a tireless team made a complex process appear seamless.
Unfortunately, that’s not all I learned. Cleaning your gloves with alcohol next to an open flame can lead to them becoming engulfed in flames. I also managed to start a small fire on the small table separating Dr. Pant and me. He turned, calmly removed his irrigating cannula from the eye, extinguished the fire and with a wry smile returned to operating.
Thankfully, the only injury was to my pride. But it taught me that working under these conditions is no easy task.
When the Academy created the YO International Subcommittee, its core mission was largely focused on preparing U.S.-based YOs like me to work in international settings. YOs are given resources to learn small-incision cataract surgery, cultural competence and basic public health.
Later, the subcommittee adopted a second mission to advocate and facilitate the formation of YO committees in societies and academies throughout the world. The mission expansion magnified the impact of the subcommittee tenfold. From the formation of YO committees in the European Society of Ophthalmology, Pan-American Association of Ophthalmology to national YO committees in Jordan and beyond, the YO movement became truly global.
“Global” is defined as embracing the whole of something or relating to the entire world. As such, the subcommittee has long embraced a truly global approach, including efforts on behalf of underserved communities within the U.S. This focus has allowed every YO, regardless of his/her prospects for travel abroad, the opportunity to meaningfully participate in global ophthalmology.
In the COVID-19 era, YOs more than ever are leading in global ophthalmology. Whether you are starting a YO committee in your own country, addressing challenges to training programs or working to bring eyecare to underserved Native American communities, we can all be global ophthalmologists.
Your journey and lessons will be unique and in this issue, you will find many pearls and lessons learned to help you along your path, not the least of which is never holding alcohol-soaked gloves near an open flame.
Jeff H. Pettey, MD, MBA
Chair, YO International subcommittee
Director of Education, John Moran Eye Center
Assistant Professor, University of Utah Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences
The YO Info International Edition is available as a series of web pages. Tip: To save online articles for future reference, log in with your member account and click "Add to My To-Do List."
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