Long before a society for young ophthalmologists organized in the Middle East, there was the Middle East Africa Council of Ophthalmology (MEACO). Today it represents 36 national and regional ophthalmological societies in Africa and the Middle East.
But young ophthalmologists in the region found a gap when it came to social interaction and networking opportunities specifically for YOs. They needed a platform for getting surgical, professional and training advice. They also needed a way to nurture mentorship between the senior and young ophthalmologists and a forum for educational events, meetings and scientific programs. And so MEACO’s Young Ophthalmologist Society was born.
MEACO leaders nominated young ophthalmologists from their national societies to the YO society leadership. For the past three years they have been working to create a forum to cross borders, share experiences and tips, foster educational programs for young ophthalmologists and advocate for their peers and patients.
Board members come from Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Syria, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates. Some have founded their own YO societies in their home countries. This includes Mais Alkilany, MD, of Jordan, a recent graduate of the Academy’s Leadership Development Program XXIII, Class of 2022. Dr. Alkilany helped found the Young Ophthalmologist chapter of Jordan (YOJOs).
“The focus of the MEACO-YO is to overcome the underrepresentation of YOs on the podium and lack of formal presence in scientific meetings, which is mostly due to lack of funding (75%) and lack of formal support by leaderships (20%) which would be overcome through the support and endorsement by MEACO leadership and subsequently member nations,” she said.
“Around 65% of the members of both YOJO and MEACO-YO felt the need to have dynamic partnerships with international YO societies as well as international foundations which would be an asset for them during and after training. MEACO is working on a partnership with the International Foundation of Ophthalmology to have a dedicated annual fellowship awarded to a young ophthalmologist through the MEACO Council,” she said.
The premier YO event happens next May during MEACO 2023, the 16th International Congress of MEACO and the Egyptian Ophthalmological Society. The congress will be held May 17-19, 2023 in Cairo and features its first young ophthalmologist program. In addition to partnering with the Academy’s YO Committee, members are excited that YOs will take the podium and moderate sessions, as well as join the scientific committee.
The event will also offer hands-on instructional courses and meetings with experts, sessions to form partnerships that they hope will improve ophthalmologists’ chances to get a training fellowship. What YOs need most, one physician says, is mentorship.
Dr. Alyaqdhan Al-Ghafri, an ophthalmologist and oculoplastic surgeon from Oman, recalls a moment when he had to wrap a donor sclera around a ball orbital implant during surgery. To his horror, Dr. Al-Ghafri dropped it on the floor, and after picking it up, panicked about contaminating the procedure. But his mentor stepped in and gracefully completed the surgery.
“Training is the toughest part of our careers, so mistakes are inevitable, and they will hurt. But mentorship teaches us how to learn from them and carry on,” he said.
About the authors: Alyaqdhan Al-Ghafri, MB BCh BAO, OMSB, ABHS, FRCS, is an ophthalmologist and oculoplastic surgeon from Oman. He received his medical degree from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, completed his ophthalmology residency at the Oman Medical Specialty Board, followed by an oculoplastics fellowship at the University of Auckland, New Zealand.
Mais Alkilany, MRCSEd, MD, is a comprehensive ophthalmologist and clinical instructor. The founding chair of Young Ophthalmologists of Jordan and the general secretary of MEACO-YO, she is also an international member of the AAO LDP XXIII, Class of 2022.
Reem Saif Saeed Rashed Alhebsi, MBBS, is a board-certified junior specialist from the United Arab Emirates with a special interest in glaucoma. She's currently seeking to pursue a fellowship in glaucoma and an active member of Emirates Society of Ophthalmology and MEACO-YO.