Ask not what your academy can do for you . . .

January 1, 2006

One of the best things that ever happened to me was getting involved with the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO). Committees that I've been on include ones that help write exam questions, select papers and abstracts to be presented at the annual meeting, and that established the refractive surgery subspecialty day courses.

One of the best things that ever happened to me was getting involved with the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO). Committees that I've been on include ones that help write exam questions, select papers and abstracts to be presented at the annual meeting, and that established the refractive surgery subspecialty day courses.

Ophthalmology Times is not an academy publication, and currently I have no substantive role in the academy. So, without a real or apparent conflict of interest, I feel very comfortable offering you some observations about the AAO, plus a suggestion.

The best part about doing work for the academy is the quality people you work with. By and large, these are very smart, dedicated people donating their time to help advance our specialty and help the public. I've been assigned to committees and thereby met for the first time men and women who were household names around the world (people like Marguerite McDonald, MD, Manus Kraff, MD, George Waring, MD, and Richard Lindstrom, MD) as well as youngsters who may have been relatively unknown at the time, but who have subsequently emerged as leaders in their cities, states, country, and fields of specialty. During some of these committee meetings, it has occurred to me to wish that every ophthalmologist could be present and see firsthand the hard work and great ideas being contributed on behalf of our specialty by some very high-quality people.

The most important thing I remember learning from Dunbar about the AAO was many years ago when I said something like "The a cademy ought to do such and such." Dunbar gently explained that basically the AAO doesn't achieve things, but rather it is a vehicle to assist ophthalmologists who have good ideas about how to help the profession and/or the public, and are willing to commit time and effort to achieve the goal. It all comes down to physicians believing something is important enough that they are willing to do what it takes to make a positive difference. The academy's staff and other volunteer ophthalmologists will provide invaluable help, but everything basically hinges upon an ophthalmologist with a cause he or she believes to be worth working on.

My suggestion is that if you have never volunteered to serve on an academy committee, you consider doing so. The academy has enough different activities that there is sure to be an area in which your background and interests would allow you to make a contribution. If you get involved, you will get to meet and work with very high-quality people, you'll learn a lot, you'll have the satisfaction of knowing you're contributing to the field, and you'll make new friends. And maybe Dunbar will tell you the one about the Lufthansa flight that makes an emergency landing.

Peter J. McDonnell, MD is director of The Wilmer Eye Institute, The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, and chief medical editor of Ophthalmology Times. He can be reached at 727 Maumenee Building, 600 North Wolfe St., Baltimore, MD 21287-9278. Phone: 443/287-1511 Fax: 443/287-1514 E-mail: pmcdonn1@jhmi.edu