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Ophthalmology Residency, Tribute to Mentor

If I had been asked to specify the qualities of someone who was to teach me any subject, I would have asked for a teacher who was deeply knowledgeable in his subject and passionate about it with the ability to pass those qualities on to others; someone who was courteous, kind, witty and genuinely interested in his students’ progress, problems and in them as unique personalities and not merely as his or her current ‘batch’ of students. I have been astonishingly fortunate in finding exactly such a teacher in Professor XXXX whose influence has undoubtedly changed the course of my life. 

Professor XXXX was my first teacher in Ophthalmology and a great inspiration to me and many others.  The professor was a Scot and a graduate of the University of London; he retired after 26 years in 2002. The Professor was a fine man, doctor and teacher. I met him when I was undertaking medical school electives in his subject at the XXXX Eye and Ear Hospital, Melbourne.  He was closely interested in the progress of all his students and was unfailingly patient and kind in all his dealings with us and had a gentle sense of humour.  He took a great interest in me and in my aspirations; he infected me with the love of his specialty and inspired me to pursue it.

Professor XXXX was particularly interested in ophthalmological conditions causing visual impairment and blindness in children.  Children were put at ease by his friendly, relaxed manner and his readiness to share a joke and a smile with them. He taught me much more than medical techniques, he helped me to understand the importance of relating well to patients, how to listen and how to allay natural anxiety in patients. He also taught me about the importance of time management and effective prioritization.   I have much to thank him for. I do not aspire to become another Professor XXXX but he has provided me with an example of professional excellence that is worth a whole library of text books.

The Professor had a particular interest in systematic connection and the eye, for instance he researched the ocular manifestation of AIDS and the effect of diabetic retinopathy on pregnancy. His research inspired me to study the effects of diabetes on the eye and the impact of ocular tumours and I spent a year at the XXXX Cancer Centre in XXXX doing so.

 I was privileged to have accompanied the Professor as a volunteer on outreach visits to Low Vision Clinics. With the Professor’s help and encouragement, I was a finalist for the Victorian State Prize Examination in Ophthalmology awarded by the Royal College of Ophthalmologists. I decided to do a second elective in Ophthalmology at the same hospital and worked as an unaccredited Registrar. I acquired clinical skills and extended my knowledge of the specialty.

I, myself, suffered vision loss from optic neuritis during my studies and so gained some first-hand experience of the anxiety eye patients suffer. The Professor gave me unstinting support during this distressing period. Had I any doubts about the importance of this specialty, the loss of my own sight, would have removed them.  Sight is a precious gift and maintaining and restoring it is, I firmly believe, the most rewarding way that I could spend my efforts and talents.

Following my own experience of blindness, my appreciation of the needs of the blind and visually impaired was greatly heightened and consequently I volunteered to become a personal reader for a blind student. I also assisted in diabetic retinopathy screening for indigenous Australians.

I became aware that my chosen specialty was a highly competitive one in Australia and so entertained some doubts about pursuing it. Professor XXXX encouraged me to persist and, with his help and support, I decided to gain some experience abroad.  I went to Singapore and worked as a Clinical Research Fellow in Ophthalmology at the XXXX Eye Research Institute. During this time I conducted the first and largest ethnic based ocular epidemiology study in South East Asia under the direction and mentorship of Professor XXXX. 

My work resulted in the award of a first class honours in my M.Phil (Ophthalmology) from the University of XXXX.  I also published more than 20 papers in prestigious peer reviewed journals and gave presentations at international conferences. During my time in Singapore, my interpersonal skills were substantially enhanced and the professional network greatly extended.    More recently I have had experience as an Ophthalmology Registrar in Malaysia, where I continue to conduct a clinical trial while working, full time, in my Ophthalmology training.

I have acquired wide knowledge and experience of the specialty in my various professional roles and volunteer experiences and have honed my clinical skills. I have discovered that I possess the dexterity necessary for fine microsurgery which I greatly enjoy and am very excited at the advances that offer possibilities for diagnostic and therapeutic precision unavailable in most specialties.

During the whole of my career to date, Professor XXXX has maintained contact, providing advice, guidance, encouragement and support. During my visits back to Melbourne, I had the great pleasure of meeting the Professor at his home. In addition to all his other talents, I discovered that he was a very good pianist, made excellent scones and was an even more amusing and interesting raconteur than I had suspected!

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