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EyeCon 2024: Program co-chair Peter J. McDonnell, MD, marvels on mentoring, modern technology, and ophthalmology’s future


McDonnell stays focused on helping the next generation of ophthalmologists launch their careers in academics.

At the Ophthalmology Times and Optometry Times EyeCon 2024 meeting, attendees will encounter a fusion of cutting-edge discussions in ophthalmology and optometry. Traditionally slated for later in the year along Florida’s west coast, this year’s event kicks off earlier, affording participants the opportunity to bask in the sunshine while delving into specialized symposiums. The conference also shifts to the state’s southeast coast, hosted at the Hilton Fort Lauderdale Marina September 27-28, 2024.

Peter J. McDonnell, MD, director and William Holland Wilmer Professor of Ophthalmology at the Wilmer Eye Institute at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, and Oluwatosin U. Smith, MD, partner, physician, and surgeon at Glaucoma Associates of Texas in Dallas, will serve as the Ophthalmology Times cochairs for the meeting.

With preparations for this year’s conference underway, it seems appropriate to bring the cochairs’ expertise to the forefront. In this interview, McDonnell marvels at how far ophthalmology has progressed since he began his fellowship in refractive surgery while it was emerging as a new field. He also underscores advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) and biologics, addresses rising research costs, and emphasizes his dedication to mentoring the next generation of ophthalmologists in academics.

To learn more about or to register for EyeCon 2024, click here.

Video Transcript:

Editor's note: The below transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Sheryl Stevenson: We are joined today by Dr. Peter McDonnell, who is co-chair of the Ophthalmology Times EyeCon 2024. meeting. We're so looking forward to this year's meeting. This year it's going to be held September 27th and 28th in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. A little change in the schedule there moving it up a little bit earlier and across to the other side of the coast in Florida. So we're looking forward to having you join us once again. And we thought it would be really appropriate just to kind of talk about I'm sure our audience would be interested in learning more about the co-chairs of these respective conferences.

So with that in mind, we'd just love to talk to you a little bit about your research interests and so forth. Obviously, your passion is corneal disease. And you've done a lot of research on the subject across your career. And I was just kind of curious, do you have any favorite studies or maybe a pet project you remember finally working on?

Peter J. McDonnell, MD: Well, sure, I was lucky. I started my fellowship just as refractive surgery was emerging and into what I thought was going to be the next frontier in ophthalmology. Many of my senior colleagues did their best to discourage me and said that there was nothing wrong with glasses and contact lenses, and that it was going to be a blind alley, and nothing good was going to happen in refractive surgery. Of course, the excimer laser was developed. I got to meet and work with Steve Trokel [MD] and all these brilliant people. Refractive surgery, in fact, did blossom into an exciting new whole field of ophthalmology. I was just lucky. It was the right time to get in on the ground floor, so to speak, on a whole new field like refractive surgery. It's the kind of experience I hope people finishing their training today might find some similar opportunity for them to get involved in a whole new area like refractive surgery was all those years ago.

Stevenson: That's fantastic. And much of your work has been published as well. How do you feel research has changed over the course of your career?

McDonnell: There's obviously been an explosion in knowledge and technology, and people today can do things and study things that we would never have imagined back when I was young that we'd be able to do. It's also become so much more expensive to do research these days. But when you look at the emergence of artificial intelligence and biologics and all the new technologies, it's clear that innovation in our field is just going to continue to accelerate. And it's just going to be so fun to watch. But it is I think quite expensive and maybe it's a little harder for young people today to get started in research.

Stevenson: Yeah, absolutely. Is there anything you would like to see evolve further in research, in general?

McDonnell: Well, this AI stuff is so fun and interesting. At our institution, that's going to be a major focus. But, you know, we got people working in all different areas and they're all super excited about their areas. So it's one of those deals where I think if someone's really excited about a field and will put the time and effort in, good things will happen.

Stevenson: And you're also an educator, most notably serving as director of the Wilmer Eye Institute and also the William Holland Wilmer Professor of Ophthalmology. How does education inspire you?

McDonnell: Well, for those of us who are in academics, I think it's all about the next generation helping young people launch their careers and be successful. We professors and department chairs live vicariously through the success of the young people [and] the successes of our trainees. I had a department chair who was as happy for me as I was when exciting things happened for me and positive things in my career. For people who are really excited about helping launch the next generation, academics is the place to be. And if you're not excited about that, then you don't want to be in academics. You want to do something else, that's for sure.

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