Unscientific polls probe minds of U.S. ophthalmologists

November 15, 2006

Ophthalmology Times periodically posts online questions to survey ophthalmologists who receive its e-newsletter. This is clearly not a scientific sampling of opinion.

Ophthalmology Times periodically posts online questions to survey ophthalmologists who receive its e-newsletter. This is clearly not a scientific sampling of opinion.

Ophthalmologists who respond to the survey might be expected to differ from those who do not. Some doctors like to answer questions, and others don't.

A typical question might elicit about 120 responses, a small percentage of the total number of practicing ophthalmologists. But scientific or not, the results are interesting, at least to me. Here are a few that you might find interesting.

We have had a fair amount of back and forth in Ophthalmology Times about the CME accrediting bodies trying to establish additional safeguards against paid consultants making unscientific or biased presentations at CME meetings. Many argue that current disclosure rules are already adequate, that experts in certain fields are naturally retained as consultants, and that these consultant/speakers do not let these relationships influence what they say. We asked the question: "Do you feel industry-supported speakers at continuing medical education meetings are unbiased?" Seventy-nine percent of respondents said NO.

The American Board of Ophthalmology gives time-limited certificates to recent diplomates, asserting that the public needs to know that ophthalmologists are refreshing their knowledge and keeping up with new developments. We asked: "Do you support time-limited certificates from the American Board of Ophthalmology?" Eighty-one percent said NO.

Some ophthalmic subspecialty societies (especially oculoplastic and retina) are asserting the need for subspecialty certification. We asked the question: "Do you support subspecialty board certification?" Fifty-nine percent said NO.

The issue of how well we train our residency graduates to be successful managers in their offices and leaders in their communities has been debated in these pages. Some argue that departments do a fine job of passing on ophthalmic knowledge, and that is their mission. Others have argued that departments fail their graduates by not teaching them all the things required to make them successful practitioners. We asked if U.S. ophthalmology residency programs do a good job of teaching residents how to succeed in the "real world" of clinical practice after they finish training. Seventy-one percent said NO.

Here's a sobering one that should give us pause. We asked whether you "would encourage a son or daughter to pursue a medical career," and 59% said NO. Whether this reflects frustration with the mediocre editorials written by the Ophthalmology Times chief medical editor is for social scientists to determine.

Lest you conclude that our responding ophthalmologists are just a bunch of naysayers, one of our questions received very few NO answers. We asked: "Do you serve as a volunteer faculty member in your local residency training program?" An impressive 87% of respondents said YES. To me this is very encouraging.

Unscientific as these polls might be, when I see 80% of ophthalmologists thinking the same way on certain topics, I think we'd be wise to sit up and take notice. What makes me feel best about the future from the polling so far is how many ophthalmologists teach their local residents. What causes me the most concern for the future is how many ophthalmologists say they would not encourage their child to go into medicine.

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

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