I first learned about the Ming Chen Foundation toward the end of medical school, after I had matched into ophthalmology residency. The Foundation offers several scholarships every year for ophthalmology residents to travel to Honolulu, Hawaii, to visit Ming Chen, MD, for a week to observe and learn about patient care in the clinic and OR. Although I had not started residency at the time, I thought this was a wonderful opportunity and an example of the generous nature of the ophthalmology community.
In residency, I began to appreciate the value of learning from as many sources as possible. I believe that different perspectives and practice environments confer unique insights that, when amalgamated, can forge the bedrock of broad clinical experience and decision-making. I was fortunate to train at the University of Cincinnati in a residency program that is split among academic, private practice, hospital, and VA settings. I had the opportunity to train with and learn from a variety of surgeons with myriad backgrounds and philosophies. During training, I also enjoyed attending ophthalmology conferences to stay up to date on advances in our field. I have benefited greatly from completing away rotations and visiting different private practices in my free time to learn from other surgeons. The perspective that comes from observing another ophthalmologist talk to a patient about a common topic or conduct a routine surgery within a different environment or culture is enlightening. Through these experiences, I have picked up many pearls and perspectives on a range of topics, including patient education, surgical instrumentation, clinic flow, and marketing. I love ophthalmology and have always sought to diversify my experiences in order to deliver the best medical and surgical care I can.
A NEW OPPORTUNITY
To my great surprise, 3 years after first learning about the Ming Chen Foundation, I received an email from Dr. Chen, inviting me to apply for one of his scholarships. I have been practicing Shotokan karate since the age of 7, am passionate about martial arts, and am a big combat sports fan. In an interview I did, I had spoken about the similarities between martial arts and surgery; Dr. Chen is coincidentally a practicing karate-ka, so on noticing the mutual passion, he invited me to apply for a scholarship from his Foundation.
I arranged to visit Honolulu for 1 week between my second and third year of residency, but then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. With so much uncertainty amid the rapidly shifting situation, we rescheduled my visit for later in 2020. However, Hawaii subsequently initiated lockdowns and restricted visitors from the mainland from entering the state. We rescheduled several more times, and I was fortunate to finally be able to visit Dr. Chen during my last week of residency in June 2021. The experience was unforgettable and worth the wait!
ON SITE WITH DR. CHEN
Traditionally, recipients of the Ming Chen Foundation scholarship are early in their ophthalmology residency training. However, having just completed residency, I found myself in a different dynamic with Dr. Chen. Rather than focus on the basics of the clinical exam and other foundational topics, we had extensive conversations around complex medical and surgical management of his patients. Despite being a solo practitioner in Honolulu, Dr. Chen is heavily involved with research and teaching, and every day we reviewed various journal articles, including several that he had recently published, and we discussed our research interests and ongoing projects. I thoroughly enjoyed conversing about the latest developments in the anterior segment space and gained insights into the evolution of cornea and cataract surgery. We also discussed all aspects of ocular surface disease, as many of Dr. Chen’s patients are affected by the condition; it was insightful to see his tailored algorithmic approach and management strategies. In between cases and conversations on ophthalmology, we talked about martial arts and life, and Dr. Chen even demonstrated some katas for me!
Dr. Chen has a unique clinic that reflects the diversity and multiculturalism of Hawaii. He speaks multiple languages, and between him and his staff, at least 8 different languages are spoken at their office. This allows Dr. Chen to cater to a unique base of patients who really love him. The amount of food that they cooked and brought in specifically for him was impressive! Our typical daily schedule involved clinic in the morning, followed by a different culinary cuisine for lunch. In the afternoon, Dr. Chen encouraged me to explore Hawaii, so I spent this time tackling as many hikes as possible and enjoying Oahu’s amazing beaches. One afternoon, I was able to join Dr. Chen in surgery and was impressed by the diverse surgical techniques he employed for cataract extraction and pterygium excision. We discussed various methods of surgical astigmatism correction, and I watched him use several techniques that I had not been exposed to in training. Additionally, Dr. Chen had access to and utilized several surgical instruments that I did not have experience with; this served as a great opportunity to learn about how to employ them safely and efficiently.
A NOTE OF GRATITUDE
For my final night on Oahu, Dr. Chen reserved us a room at a fabulous restaurant, where we were served a seven-course meal ranging from seafood to Asian cuisine. It was a wonderful evening spent with his family, advisors, and close friends. Dr. Chen was also kind enough to increase my scholarship support, as prices for lodging, airfare, and ground transportation were exorbitantly inflated due to the pandemic.
Visiting Dr. Chen was an amazing and unforgettable experience that I will cherish forever. I am inspired by his Foundation and intend to pay forward and replicate his unbridled generosity to future ophthalmology trainees. I encourage all ophthalmology residents to apply for a scholarship from his Foundation; it was an exceptional week, during which I made a lifelong friend. Thank you, Dr. Chen!
Author’s note: Due to difficulty traveling during the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Chen is generously allowing scholarship funds to be put toward visiting any ophthalmologist or for use in covering costs associated with submitting a research manuscript to peer-reviewed journals for publication.