May 25, 2009
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Imperial City Eye Meeting to bring educational outreach to Vietnam

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The Imperial City Eye Meeting is run on a shoestring, according to meeting organizer John M. Corboy, MD.

John A. Hovanesian, MD
John A. Hovanesian

Based out of a filing cabinet in Dr. Corboy’s home office and run entirely on donations, time and equipment from ophthalmic companies, ophthalmologists and others, the Hawaiian Eye Foundation has brought two state-of-the-art training meetings to Vietnamese physicians, with a third meeting scheduled for June 7 to June 10, 2010, in Hue, Vietnam.

Even with a shoestring approach to organizing and running the Imperial City Eye Meeting (ICEM), the two previous meetings have been highly successful, well-attended and lauded by attendees, Dr. Corboy said.

He and Vietnamese organizers expected only 25 to 30 physicians at the first meeting in 2006. However, once word spread that 15 visiting ophthalmologists were conducting an ophthalmic training meeting in the former Imperial city of Hue, physicians traveled from across the country to attend.

A total of 234 Vietnamese ophthalmologists attended the first ICEM. At the 2008 ICEM in Hue, attendance rose to 346 physicians.

“This just blew us away,” Dr. Corboy, president of the Hawaiian Eye Foundation, said in an interview with Ocular Surgery News. “[It] represented the bulk of the ophthalmologists in the whole country who came to our meeting.”

How ICEM started

The meeting is conducted by the Hawaiian Eye Foundation, which has been sponsoring eye care outreach to South Pacific countries since its inception in the early 1980s. In addition to Vietnam, training trips have been made regularly to Tonga, Samoa and Fuji, Dr. Corboy said.

He was asked in 2004 to bring the first-of-its-kind educational training meeting to the Southeast Asian region. He accepted the task without realizing the language and government barriers he would face, he said.

Bryan Edgington, MD, gives an educational demonstration
Bryan Edgington, MD, gives an educational demonstration to a Vietnamese physician at an Imperial City Eye Meeting.

Image: Corboy JM

Vietnamese ophthalmologists earn the equivalent of about $100 a month, regardless of their skill level, Dr. Corboy said. “I had overlooked the fact that this is a foreign country, ... and it’s a Socialist country, so there are no incentives like we have in a market economy.”

However, physicians there have demonstrated that they are eager to improve their surgical skill set and become current on techniques and technology.

To transfer the organization of the meeting to the Vietnamese physicians, the Hawaiian Eye Foundation sponsored two Vietnamese ophthalmologists to attend the Hawaiian Eye meetings in 2007 and 2009. They learned how to run a meeting, about “crowd control, traffic flow, badging, logistics, catering,” Dr. Corboy said. “The first year, we ran the ICEM entirely, but in the future, we want it to become their meeting.”

How ICEM works

The ICEM features visiting faculty volunteer ophthalmologists — mostly from the U.S., but also from Canada, the United Kingdom, Europe and India — who travel to Vietnam on their own funds to deliver a week of lectures and wet labs to Vietnamese physicians. Topics covered include cataract, reconstructive surgery, glaucoma, strabismus, cornea, external disease, retina and laser treatment of retinopathy. Physicians can volunteer to instruct in their subspecialty or to assist in wet labs.

“We have about 12 or 15 stations set up with the pigs’ eyes, where there’s a microscope, a phaco machine, a translator, an American instructor, and tables and chairs, and so forth, and somebody in charge, and then they have doormen who let the people come in,” Dr. Corboy said. “The students come in two at a time: One does the procedure while another watches, and then they trade places.”

Days at the meeting can be long, Dr. Corboy said. Wet labs typically run from 8 a.m. until nearly 6 p.m.

The work is intensive for faculty ophthalmologists. Each faculty member has a free half-day and opportunity to tour the country for a week after the meeting, but they are expected to remain available at the venue each meeting day.

The hard work is not without its rewards. Vietnamese ophthalmologists appreciate training in techniques such as phacoemulsification, which is not often performed in the country. Volunteer physicians are often grateful to give back to the ophthalmic community.

“Over their professional lives, our hundreds of trainees will restore vision to millions of patients,” Dr. Corboy said.

“I simply create the vehicle out of my filing cabinet so that teachers get to teach and students get to learn,” he said. “That’s a great satisfaction for me. Not about what did I do, but what did I help them learn to do — to empower them.” – by Erin L. Boyle