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