Organization looks to improve global eye care through ophthalmic education.
Reviewed by David E. I. Pyott, MDhc
The Ophthalmology Foundation is a recently formed nonprofit organization created to support ophthalmic education internationally—particularly in low-resource and underserved countries—in order to improve global eye care, advance scientific ophthalmology, and ultimately preserve and restore vision for people of all nations. Formed as a successor of the International Council of Ophthalmology Foundation (ICOF), the Ophthalmology Foundation’s programs for advancing and facilitating ophthalmologists’ learning and skills development are moving in a new direction designed to align with contemporary needs and approaches to education, said David E. I. Pyott, MDhc, president of the Ophthalmology Foundation’s Board of Directors.
During the more than 6 months since it was formed, the Ophthalmology Foundation has had many accomplishments and programs under way. Considering what has been achieved in such a short time, the enthusiasm of its board members and volunteers, and the expectation that more will be joining the effort, the future looks very bright for the foundation.
“As is the case for any new organization, our aim for creating the Ophthalmology Foundation was to introduce something better,” Pyott said. “It seems we are well on our way to success judging from the passion and interest displayed by our board members.” Pyott also noted that as the organization moves forward with its mission, it is inviting ophthalmologists who would like to help colleagues in less-developed countries to reach out to learn about becoming volunteers.
The Ophthalmology Foundation was officially established at the end of 2020 and has a board of approximately 35 members, representing an international group of renowned ophthalmologists of all subspecialties from different practice settings as well as leaders in industry. “The common denominator for the members of our diverse board is their enthusiasm for educating ophthalmologists in lower-income and middle-income countries,” Pyott said.
The organization is being built using the antecedents of the ICOF, but with the clear intention of making it different. The Ophthalmology Foundation has 2 major arms: a fellowship program, which is administered by the International Ophthalmological Fellowship Foundation in Germany, and ophthalmic education, which focuses on improving educators’ competencies.
Discussing the fellowship program, Pyott said the Ophthalmology Foundation already has funding to support a greater number of fellowships than were available at any point in the history of the ICOF. Assuming travel restrictions related to COVID-19 will not interfere, there are now 80 fellowships available including a pair of 12-month fellowships offered by the Retina Research Foundation Helmerich Fellowship, with the remainder being 3-month fellowships. The fellowships are in 50 host countries with most in the United States, Germany, and the United Kingdom.
“We will be securing more financing shortly that will be applied to increase the number of fellowships offered, and we hope to be building onto the number of host countries,” according to Pyott. The ophthalmology education arm targets educating physicians around the world so that they can teach fellows and colleagues. Pyott noted specifically that it does not involve production of ophthalmic educational content.
“There are already great programs that produce educational content, such as the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s Ophthalmic Network of Education,” he explained.
“Our aim is to provide volunteers the teaching skills they need so that they can share their knowledge and expertise.”
The education arm is being led by Karl C. Golnik, MD, Cincinnati, Ohio, and he is being joined by board members Eduardo P. Mayorga, MD, Buenos Aires, Argentina; Ana Gabriela Palis, MD, Buenos Aires, Argentina; and Helena Filipe, MD, Lisbon, Portugal; and a group of another 20 volunteers around the world.
The education programs are being developed and will include online content and in-person learning. In July, online programming was launched with a series called “Teaching Skills for Ophthalmic Educators.” It consists of 12 monthly modules, and the content is available on the Ophthalmology Foundation Education Consortium website.
In-person education programs are planned for the Malaysian Ophthalmology Society meeting in August 2021 and the American Academy of Ophthalmology meeting in November 2021.
Future plans include establishing a mentorship program that will pair ophthalmologists who are early in their careers with experienced colleagues who can provide insights on how younger professionals can advance their careers and their educational skills. In addition, the Ophthalmology Foundation hopes to hold the 4-day Eyexcel meeting that will have a mix of virtual programming and in-person learning (travel permitting) at an Aravind Eye Hospital in India.
The Ophthalmology Foundation is also publishing a free monthly educators newsletter. It provides resources from around the world that have been reviewed and approved by the Ophthalmic Education Editorial Board and lists upcoming opportunities for fellowships, workshops, and other events of interest to ophthalmic educators. Individuals who are interested in receiving the newsletter can access it on the Ophthalmology Foundation’s website, and they can also sign up on the website to receive the monthly newsletter by email. Individuals interested in learning more about the Foundation’s programs can look to its social media pages on Facebook and LinkedIn.
Ophthalmologists who would like to help their colleagues in lesser developed countries are welcome to become involved with the Ophthalmology Foundation and can do so in various ways. If they would like to host a fellow, ophthalmologists working in an academic setting that does not already have a fellowship agreement with the International Ophthalmology Fellows Foundation can reach out to Cordula Gabel-Obermaier, IOFF executive for fellowships, at email@example.com. Ophthalmologists who are enthusiastic about educating colleagues are encouraged to reach out by clicking on the “Contact Us” tab found on the Ophthalmology Foundation’s website to learn about educator opportunities.
Pyott said the organization would like to hear from anyone who could help its mission by sharing their knowledge and expertise. “Our current education team includes members with decades of experience as ophthalmic educators,” he said. “However, we hope to build the next generation of volunteers by hearing from younger ophthalmologists who have established themselves in their career and want to devote time to helping colleagues in the rest of the world.”
The Ophthalmology Foundation is also grateful to receive donations that will help support the organization’s mission of serving ophthalmic educators around the world. “The road to building organizations is paved by small donations,” Pyott concluded.