The Irish College of Ophthalmologists (ICO) 2023 Annual Conference heard how the role of medical ophthalmology has evolved significantly over the years in Ireland, with the College currently running a communications campaign to highlight the advantages of training to be a medical ophthalmologist.
Dr Geraldine Comer, Consultant Medical Ophthalmologist, CHO2/Community Healthcare West, delivered this year’s European Society of Ophthalmology Lecture at the meeting, with a talk entitled: ‘Medical ophthalmology – A personal journey’.
She outlined how the field of medical ophthalmology in Ireland has dramatically progressed in recent decades – from being under-resourced and under structured with a lack of formal links to hospital-based ophthalmic services and a rural-urban divide, to the development of a modern service, providing a wider range of eye care with a new structured career pathway (replacing the community ophthalmic physician post) as part of a multidisciplinary team in the community (integrated eye care teams), and formal links to hospital-based ophthalmology services.
Dr Comer encouraged trainees to consider becoming medical ophthalmologists, saying it is a vibrant and rewarding career, with great scope to develop and shape services through the integrated eye care team model being rolled out across the country.
The ICO’s medical ophthalmology training programme was launched in 2017 to generate a specialised workforce aligned to the areas of greatest eye-care demand, namely paediatric ophthalmology, medical retina, and glaucoma, coupled with an increasing ageing demographic and the huge expansion of new medical treatments for sight-threatening conditions. Alongside the programme, a new HSE post of consultant medical ophthalmologist was launched in 2019. This unique post was designed with the specific purpose of delivering integrated eye-care services, across both community and tertiary sites.
To increase awareness of and applications to the programme, the ICO is currently delivering a national communications campaign with the medical schools and intern networks, to highlight both the training journey and the varied and exciting career of a consultant medical ophthalmologist, Miss Yvonne Delaney, ICO Dean of Postgraduate Education, told the Medical Independent.
The National Training Programme in Medical Ophthalmology focuses on general ophthalmology in the early basic years and the subspecialties of paediatric ophthalmology, medical retina, and glaucoma in the higher training years. This combination of general and subspecialty training is essential to take on the new role of the consultant medical ophthalmologist, Miss Delaney explained. Working across two sites – the consultant medical ophthalmologist delivers ophthalmic care with an integrated eye care team (optometrist, orthoptist, ophthalmic nurse, technician) in the community and delivers subspecialist care in the acute hospital eye department. “In this way the job entails an exciting combination of general and subspecialty care with team leadership and integrated care at its core.”
Importantly for the trainees on the programme, the HSE has invested significantly in new consultant medical ophthalmologist posts, she said. Since 2020, seven new posts with integrated eye care teams have been established in the Dublin area, two in Cork, and a further three across Galway, Sligo, and Drogheda.
“It is an exciting time for the specialty as we continue to expand integrated eye care services. The ICO is focused on increasing the number of doctors on our national training programme in medical ophthalmology with increasing numbers of trainees required to meet current and projected eye-care demand,” Miss Delaney said.