Retinal fellows meet peers before launching careers

March 15, 2006

Chicago?Carl C. Awh, MD, remembers what it's like to be an ophthalmic fellow on the brink of a career in retinal surgery. He knows how fellows may often feel intimidated by being around established surgeons at major meetings or how they may not receive the attention of industry representatives presenting their products and supplies. He understands their fear of not knowing all the answers.

That's why Dr. Awh, in private practice with Retina-Vitreous Associates, Nashville, TN, wanted to organize a meeting-just for senior retinal fellows-to help ease their transition into the field. Now in its sixth year, about 80 vitreoretinal fellows joined 40 surgeons and industry representatives for annual Retinal Fellows' Forum here in January.

Meeting a need

Course co-directors included Tarek S. Hassan, MD, and David R. Chow, MD. Sponsored by Bausch & Lomb and endorsed by the American Society of Retinal Specialists (ASRS), the day-and-a-half event included informal lectures, case presentations, and panel discussions led by ASRS members. Eleven other companies also sponsored the meeting, and made short presentations to the fellows. However, no single company has direct influence on the meeting agenda, and the faculty might debate the merits of various instruments during their presentations.

Brooks W. McCuen II, MD, Duke University's director of vitreoretinal service, the Robert Machemer Professor of Ophthalmology, and vice chairman of the ophthalmology department, was this year's distinguished speaker.

The program is geared entirely for fellows, allowing them to meet one another as well as the experienced specialists on an informal level, according to Dr. Awh. The idea is to make fellows comfortable enough to ask questions during presentations-and to show them that the experts may not have all the answers, he added.

For example, fellows might watch as surgeons debate the proper way to tackle a problem and discover how much they disagree. They might also be surprised to find how differently their peers from a different institution were taught to handle a given case.

"It makes them feel a little bit better that there's nothing wrong with not knowing the answer, and the most valuable way to learn is to ask someone else," Dr. Awh said. "People naturally have a little insecurity [as] they come out of training, that if they don't know the answer, their training isn't complete," Dr. Awh said. "What this shows them is training is never complete . . . and your peers are one of the most valuable sources of information."