For some who train at Wilmer Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins Medicine, they do so with a particular sense of obligation. They want to take what they have learned and apply it in their home countries, where eye care is in high demand but availability is limited.
Several ambitious neuro-ophthalmology trainees from around the world have sought fellowship opportunities at Wilmer, with the goal of being able to provide care in their home nations, says Amanda Henderson, chief of Wilmer’s neuro-ophthalmology division. During their time at Wilmer, they have developed and performed research studies, created novel technologies and introduced fresh perspectives. “It is exciting to see our international fellows using the expertise they developed at Wilmer to expand access to outstanding neuro-ophthalmic care to patients around the world,” she says.
Two recent graduates, Malek Alrobaian and Omar Solyman, have returned to practice in their home countries — Saudi Arabia and Egypt, respectively — where neuro-ophthalmologists are few and far between. Henderson says training international fellows plays a key role in Wilmer’s educational mission, as graduates such as Alrobaian and Solyman go on to fill gaps in patient access to care in their home countries.
Alrobaian trained at Wilmer from 2018 to 2019 and is now an attending ophthalmologist and a residency program director at King Abdulaziz Medical City in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. “I was looking all over the world to see where I could get a good training,” he says, adding that his country and region are in deep need of specialized ophthalmologists. “The goal was to get training and come back to my people and my friends to help them.”
At Wilmer, Alrobaian says he gained valuable experiences from mentors, peers and patients on a daily basis, particularly Henderson and the now-retired Neil Miller. While learning different techniques and terms, what he learned most of all was about passion. “I learned how to be enthusiastic and keen to learn regardless of your age and position,” he says.
Alrobaian says his time at Wilmer has inspired him to incorporate several practices he learned there — including better documentation methods and having regular team meetings — and he hopes more hospitals will emulate the Wilmer experience. He has also started a residency program and is beginning to develop a neuro-ophthalmology program. “The patients are the people who will benefit from all these changes,” he says.
Solyman is a lecturer and associate consultant of ophthalmology at the Research Institute of Ophthalmology in Giza, Egypt, and a visiting associate consultant in the ophthalmology department of Qassim University Medical City in Buraydah, Saudi Arabia. When he is not taking care of patients, his main interests are making surgical training and telemedical clinical care affordable and available for ophthalmic surgeons and patients in low resource settings by designing low-cost medical devices and surgical education models.
He came to Wilmer in September 2018 and was eager to work with Miller, who he considered to be a role model and “the godfather of neuro-ophthalmology.” He quickly noticed that the passion for education was contagious at Wilmer, and the neuro-ophthalmology team had a variety of clinical and research interests, which made it an optimal training environment for a fellow. “Every minute you spend at Wilmer, you get to learn something or teach someone something,” he says.
While at Wilmer, Solyman was part of a research team that used compact 3D cameras to take videos of the eye to mimic what an ophthalmologist sees in a real-time examination. The approach has the potential to make eye care more accessible worldwide. “Our idea is that if we can do that, it could open doors to medical education not only in Egypt but everywhere,” he says. “If you see a rare case and you 3D record the examination, everyone can watch it later on. Nurses and general doctors can take the pictures and send them over to Hopkins or Research Institute of Ophthalmology and get answers back.”In Egypt, Solyman has begun to train people interested in neuro-ophthalmology, and he is eager to do so because it will ultimately lead to more patients who receive care. ”If you can treat 30 or 40 patients a day, that is good, but if you can train a fellow who will be able to treat another 30 or 40 patients a day, this is adding much value,” he says.