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Our top priority is providing value to members. Your Member Services team is here to ensure you maximize your ACS member benefits, participate in College activities, and engage with your ACS colleagues. It's all here.

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DEI in Action

Minority Ophthalmology Mentoring Program Tackles Disparities in Eye Care

Keith D. Carter, MD, FACS

August 1, 2022

Editor’s note: The Minority Ophthalmology Mentoring program is a recipient of the 2021 American College of Surgeons Innovative Grant for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Anti-Racism.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology (the Academy) and the Association of University Professors of Ophthalmology (AUPO) have collaborated since 2018 to offer the Minority Ophthalmology Mentoring (MOM) program. Their shared goal has been increasing diversity in ophthalmology by helping students who are underrepresented minorities in medicine (URiM) become competitive applicants to ophthalmology residency programs.

Scope of the Issue

Public health evidence reveals that access to care improves when the physician community reflects the population it serves. Although URiM comprise 30.7% of the US population, they only account for 6% of practicing ophthalmologists. This imbalance makes it increasingly important to bring additional URiM physicians into ophthalmology.

Furthermore, statistics show that the prevalence of eye diseases like glaucoma, macular degeneration, and diabetic retinopathy disproportionately affect Black, Latino, and Native American people. This disparity has put minorities behind and fueled the efforts of the MOM program to bring URiM students into ophthalmology.

The MOM executive committee recognizes that our society is becoming more diverse, and to address this change we need to train a more diverse physician group to serve this patient population. Our subspecialty has not done as well as others in training a more diverse pool of physicians and future leaders. This concern led to the establishment of the MOM program.

To date, 206 students from across the country have benefited from participation in the MOM program. While still too early to have definitive results, 24 students have successfully matched into ophthalmology residencies, with an anticipated 20 ready to apply in the 2022−2023 match cycle. Every year, more students apply, and the rate of satisfaction is seen not only from survey results, but also knowing that the greatest source of new applicants are referrals from the students who have previously participated in the program. In fact:

  • 90% of students indicate high or very high interest in ophthalmology after at least 1 year of continual participation in the program
  • 89% have shadowed an ophthalmologist, and 76% have participated or are participating in ophthalmic research projects
  • 99% would recommend the program to a friend

A key to the success of the MOM program is the one-on-one relationships that the students build with ophthalmologists. The students also have access to resources, such as webinars, exam preparatory materials, interview coaching, and a student engagement weekend during the Academy’s annual meeting that provides broad-based exposure to the many facets of ophthalmology, access to wet labs, and networking opportunities. Every year, additional resources are added to address the needs of the students. For example, this year, we added stipend support for research projects, financial backing for away rotations, and coaching for the match applicants.

The participating students credit the program heavily for the support they need to get past the hurdles they face. Most (80%) are the first members of their immediate families to attend medical school. Because of the significant impact the program has had in its first 5 years, these students are getting the chance to interact, be inspired, and get a good start on their journey to becoming practicing ophthalmologists in their communities.

Although not every medical student will choose a career in ophthalmology, the MOM program is giving them early exposure to a specialty that has an early match schedule and is not highlighted during medical school.

A Collective Effort

Programs like the Rabb-Venable (RV) Excellence in Ophthalmology Research Program also support medical students, residents, and fellows in ophthalmology who are URiM.

The RV program, supported by the National Eye Institute, was established more than 20 years ago. Since 2008, 85% of the 79 RV medical students who have applied for ophthalmology residency have matched. Allies, such as the Academy, AUPO, and subspecialty societies are essential to building future leaders with the goal of achieving health equity for our patients, according to Eydie Miller-Ellis, MD, chief, glaucoma service, vice-chair for faculty affairs and diversity, and professor of clinical ophthalmology at Penn Medicine, Philadelphia, PA, and Mildred Olivier, MD, FACS, associate dean of the School of Medicine at Ponce Health Sciences University, St. Louis, MO.

Opportunities afforded by the RV program and others like it work hand-in-hand to achieve the same goal as the MOM program. Our collective commitment to improving health outcomes by helping to place minorities in the field of medicine will ultimately improve patient outcomes by creating a more diverse healthcare workforce.

The MOM program has received support not only from the Academy and the AUPO, but also from member ophthalmologists who serve as the program’s leaders, mentors, champions at academic centers, and speakers. The program has been further supported financially by subspecialty societies and specialized interest groups, the ophthalmic industry, and individual ophthalmologists.

To take the MOM program into the next level, the Academy Foundation has launched a successful campaign to raise another $5 million. This effort will help cultivate the next generation of ophthalmologists who will continue to tackle disparities in eye care.

Dr. Keith D. Carter is departmental executive officer, professor, and chair, department of ophthalmology, Carver College of Medicine, University of Iowa Hospital and Clinic, Iowa City.