Although it’s tempting to pause at the end of residency and celebrate your hard-won mastery of ophthalmology by taking a break, the truth is that our field is changing faster now than at any point in history.
Due to the amount of innovation coming to market the past five years, the way we practice ophthalmology today is significantly different compared to when your training began. What’s even more likely is that the way you practice ophthalmology five years from now will be significantly different from how you practice today.
A challenging aspect of your first years in independent practice will be figuring out how best to keep up with all the new innovation when it’s not someone else’s job to teach you. Here are five key tips to help you continue learning long after completing training.
All of our profession’s biggest innovations are discussed in the same place: our professional journals. However, the first few years after graduation can often feel overwhelming, and staying current on publications is one of those goals that is often set aside in favor of issues requiring more urgent attention. Despite their best intentions, many recent graduates watch the pile of journals build up on their desk — with every intention of reading them one day.
Rather than trying to read every journal article published, be judicious. Set achievable goals for staying current on publications, such as an article per month, or a specific topic you would like to focus on. Even better, look for ways to outsource. Most professional societies have their own journal clubs that highlight the best of the recent ophthalmic publications. Many are available as podcasts or webinars that you can listen to easily on a commute or during a workout.
Meetings are one of the best ways to continue your ophthalmic education, and there are numerous opportunities to gain new knowledge and skills at any meeting you attend. Sometimes these meetings can be overwhelming, so a strategic approach can be helpful. Register for a meeting with a few specific educational goals in mind. Plan your meeting around sessions, wet labs or events that relate to that skill.
Recent graduate Marissa LaRochelle, a uveitis specialist at Moran Eye Center, said this approach worked well for her when she wanted to learn how to perform a pars plana vitrectomy as an anterior segment surgeon and enrolled in a wet lab at one of the Academy’s annual meetings.
“I went to [the meeting] with the goal of learning everything about that technique. I signed up early for the wet lab session. I planned my courses to take advantage of every session that focused on the topic, and I asked a million questions like a first-year resident again, but I came out of the conference with a new skill and the confidence to use it,” she said.
Get Help From Industry
Quite often, the person teaching you a new surgical skill will be a sales representative trying to sell you new devices. Take advantage of their knowledge. When a new device is approved, talk to the rep in your area. Arrange a wet lab and ask questions. Ask them to join you in the clinic or operating room until you feel comfortable with the new device or technique.
Although it’s important to remember that the medical device industry has its own reasons for educating you, the reps are usually extremely knowledgeable about the device they sell and often have watched thousands of procedures during their careers.
This advice was passed along by a more senior physician in my practice: “Some of the best surgical pearls I’ve collected post-residency have come from industry reps passing along a technique they watched another surgeon do that worked well.”
Industry reps often have a network of early adopters for whatever they are selling and can put you in touch with fellow ophthalmologists if you have questions, need advice about patient selection or want help finetuning a technique.
Find a Surgical Mentor
Sometimes your colleagues are the best ones to turn to when developing a new technique. Speak with others in your practice who perform the procedure you are interested in learning and ask them for help. This can include talking through cases, watching surgical videos together or asking them to scrub with you on a few cases.
I completed glaucoma fellowship just as the XEN Gel Stent was approved by the Food and Drug Administration and was lucky enough to have a mentor in my practice who was an early adopter. So, I asked him if I could study his surgical videos; in addition to his videos, he happily shared his pearls regarding post-operative management and patient selection with me. When I was ready for my first case, he offered to join me in the OR as my assistant.
Use the Academy’s Resources
Finally, stay connected to the Academy. As the unifying professional organization representing our specialty, the Academy has thousands of resources dedicated to keeping us practicing ophthalmology at the highest level possible. In addition to the annual meeting, the Academy’s website for ophthalmologists features publications, journal clubs, learning modules and online resources, such as EyeWiki, all designed to keep you current.
Incorporating new advances and mastering new techniques is a critical skill for all ophthalmologists, regardless of how long they have been in practice. By building habits as a young ophthalmologist that allow you to do this effectively and efficiently, you will lay groundwork that will pay dividends in the years to come.
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Rachel Simpson, MD,
is a glaucoma specialist at Moran Eye Center, University of Utah, in Salt Lake City. She joined the YO Info
editorial board in 2020.