The ASCRS Foundation supports education in Ethiopia - and sees results
by Barbara C. Erny, MD ASCRS Foundation Medical Liaison for International Programs
This past April, the ASCRS Foundation’s Medical Liaison for International Programs had a unique opportunity, a chance to see firsthand the students and programs directly affected by the Foundation’s support. Barbara C. Erny, MD, traveled to the Ras Amba Hotel in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to see the ICO Board Review Course in person. The three-day course was planned by the Himalayan Cataract Project with support from a generous Emory University grant along with assistance from the ASCRS Foundation.
Every resident in Ethiopia eligible for the ICO Board exams was invited to attend and had their expenses paid. That included, as Dr. Erny saw, huge buffets at meal times with injera, Ethiopian cuisine’s signature spongey flatbread, along with local vegetable and meat dishes. “No running out for a Philly cheesesteak sandwich from a truck,” Dr. Erny joked. The course had two lecture halls running simultaneously, one with the clinical curriculum for the senior residents and the other with visual science lectures followed by optics. The ICO gives three sets of written board exams to be taken by residents: visual science, optics refraction and instruments, and clinical ophthalmology. The review course was given for the first time in 2018 when it was taught in large part by the Emory and Stanford Global Fellows, Fran Wu, MD, and Neda Nikpor, MD. The future plan calls for Ethiopian professors to assume responsibility for running the course, and this year many subjects were taught by university attendings, local practitioners, and optometry professors. Keri Allen, MD, an Emory Fellow who spent the year in Addis Ababa, handled the logistics and staffing with assistance from Allison Jarstad, DO, a global fellow from Stanford. Wayne Cornblath, MD, from University of Michigan, taught the neuro-ophthalmology course. Dr. Erny explained, “he had such great nystagmus videos that I got dizzy just watching!” A colleague of his, Christine Nelson, MD, assisted, lecturing on her specialty, oculoplastics.
Drs. Allen and Jarstad overcame technical difficulties, including power outages and equipment failures, along with speaker no-shows, to put together an enriching course. Their trials were trivial in comparison to the tragedy that occurred on the last morning of the course, when Yared Assefa, MD, the residency director from Gondar University who was scheduled to speak, passed away suddenly. “Several Gondar residents left early, too upset to continue, and the mood of the rest of us was quite solemn,” Dr. Erny said. Still, reviews of the course were extremely positive, both from the residents and the speakers. Dr. Erny enjoyed: “lecturing on cataract/lens, socializing with the residents, and seeing them work together to review the subject matter.” Once the results of the exams came in, the success of the course could not be denied. The pass rate in Ethiopia for optics, refraction and instruments increased by 25%, for visual science by 13%, and for clinical ophthalmology by 15% all in one year. When compared with test-takers from approximately 80 countries, the Ethiopian residents performed above average in all three sections and posted the highest grades among all African participants.
The ASCRS Foundation is proud to be working with our NGO partners, like the Himalayan Cataract Program, along with in-country ophthalmologists to provide quality training. Ethiopia now has five residency programs, providing training in every subspecialty, with the exception of neuro-ophthalmology. Several fellowships are scheduled to begin next year. Helping residents pass their board exams provides the foundation with sustainable, locally-sourced eyecare.