In this day and age of accelerated access to information and technological advances, it is crucial for ophthalmologists to ethically engage with their colleagues in industry—to learn, teach, and innovate alongside them. The ideal time for this symbiotic relationship to be fostered and cultivated is during residency training.
The topic of collaboration with industry may sometimes be viewed as taboo, particularly in academic circles, where there often exists a visceral aversion to intermixing academia and industry. This sentiment stems from a misguided and myopic thought process that these circles exist independently, represent an inherent conflict of interest, and thus are mutually exclusive. In fact, they are interdependent and complementary and can lead to a mutually beneficial, symbiotic relationship. Medical school curricula often lack instruction on the concepts involved in the research and development of new procedures and devices as well as the business acumen needed to bring such solutions to scale in a way that improves profitability and patient outcomes. Once ophthalmology training begins, the focus shifts to learning new examination and surgical skills—analogous to learning an entirely new language—with minimal time available to engage with industry.
Still, I would argue that ophthalmology residents (and interested medical students) should actively seek out opportunities to explore this aspect of our field. As residents, our level of engagement may be limited to attending industry-sponsored courses or conferences, but doing so empowers us with a wealth of knowledge and the tools needed to provide the best care for our patients. Of course, it is crucial that engagement with industry is done in a manner that is consistent with the established code of ethics.
EFFECTIVE ENGAGEMENT WITH INDUSTRY
Within my residency program, we routinely collaborate with industry partners. Representatives from major equipment and pharmaceutical companies host wet labs for MIGS procedures and other devices and inform us of new drug developments and the available financial resources to make them affordable for patients.
I recently attended the Bausch + Lomb Surgical Mentor Resident Program course in Tampa Bay, Florida. Over the course of the weekend, attendees toured the company’s headquarters and obtained a direct look into the intricate manufacturing processes involved in creating IOLs and other products. As we were touring, I observed a dynamic exchange between residents, who asked poignant questions regarding the intricacies of the process from a clinical perspective, and Bausch + Lomb representatives, who reciprocated with answers and follow-up questions from an engineering and business vantage point. It’s imperative that this sort of interdisciplinary exchange of ideas occur on a global level in order to spur ophthalmic innovation and, ultimately, provide an avenue to optimize patient care and outcomes.
This represents what I call the cycle of innovation. It begins with a common problem that clinicians observe in practice and then relay to industry, where the funding and resources to create solutions exist. Clinicians can evaluate these solutions, and industry members can further refine their ideas. This exchange of feedback between physicians and industry requires mutual trust and deliberate engagement, which, if present, can result in increased value for patients.
Throughout the remainder of the weekend course, residents attended personalized medical and surgical lectures by anterior segment surgeons. Some of these lectures were held at the Eye Institute of West Florida, a busy private practice in the region. There, we observed live surgeries and toured the facility, catching a glimpse of the day-to-day activities of a highly efficient, high-volume private practice that delivers excellent patient care. Last, we were given the opportunity to participate in various wet labs and receive direct instruction from experts in the field.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR TRAINEES
For those looking to engage with industry, myriad conferences and courses are available for trainees of all levels. In the past, I have attended the AAO and ASCRS annual meetings, MillennialEYE Live, Young Eye Surgeons Advanced Cataract Training, and the Bausch + Lomb residents’ course. Each event provided ample opportunities to engage with industry partners and learn about the technologies and products currently available and in development.
By educating ourselves on every product available to manage various ophthalmic conditions, we empower ourselves with the knowledge and tools required to offer patients the most innovative and efficacious solutions, which is the ultimate goal. Many of the conferences provide trainees with stipends to attend in exchange for an abstract or case submission, and some industry partners cover expenses for trainees to attend their courses.
- AAO annual meeting
- ASCRS annual meeting
- MillennialEYE Live (now BMC Vision Summit)
- Various subspecialty conferences
- Young Eye Surgeons (YES) Advanced Cataract Training
- Bausch + Lomb Surgical Mentor Resident Program
- Alcon Continuing Specialized Education Program
- Glaukos MIGS Course
- Cataract Surgery: Telling It Like It Is (Led by Robert H. Osher, MD)
Ophthalmology is a team sport, and, in addition to clinicians and ancillary staff, our colleagues in industry are key players. Engagement with industry can take many forms, including learning, teaching, and innovating. As residents, we should engage by taking advantage of the various conferences and courses that our industry partners sponsor in order to learn about all of the tools available for our patients. By challenging silo mentalities and adopting a more collaborative mindset, today’s millennial trainees in ophthalmology will be well positioned to become tomorrow’s clinician innovators.