Aiming for Teaching Eyecellence

(My apologies, that couldn’t have been cornea if I tried. Okay I’m actually done now.)

I haven’t really accepted the fact that I’m coming back to the United States in a matter of days. This week has been filled with excitement and activity, furthering my denial about leaving a country that I’ve grown surprisingly accustomed to over the period of 10 weeks. I’m not sure how ready I am to walk down streets that aren’t oppressively hot, dusty, and teeming with goats and cows.

Starting this Tuesday, Aravind continued to prove its strength as a model institution with well-established teaching methods by hosting the 8th Eyexcel conference that included physicians and teachers from 16 institutions in 6 different countries. Eyexcel is dedicated to “expanding the global eye care workforce through excellence in training”, a philosophy that Aravind adheres to through the development of courseware that will eventually be shared internationally. I had the privilege of helping the facilitators of this conference and interacting with participants from Peru, Bangladesh, Malawi, China, Nepal, and different parts of India. Course faculty includes Dr. Suzanne Gilbert of the Seva Foundation, Dr. Kathryn Hecht formerly of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, Dr. Karl Golnik, President of the Joint Commission of on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology (JCAHPO) and Professor of Ophthalmology, Neurology, and Neurosurgery at the University of Cincinnati and the Cincinnati Eye Institute, along with various other leaders in eye care and educational development that made this conference possible.

Serving as an excellent culmination to my summer work, the conference was important in reinforcing the teaching philosophies that we actively incorporated in the Aurosiksha lessons. Sustainability, proper implementation, and efficient design were among the key elements discussed when developing course curriculum. The position of Mid Level Ophthalmic Personnel is unique in that the training is specifically focused on competencies that lead to care. It is different than a nursing or physician assistant school in that it is tailored to a particular institution’s workforce needs. JCAHPO is one of the leading international organizations in furthering education and certification programs for ophthalmology, and the idea is to provide a broad range of suggested competencies/relevant training that then allow a hospital to select what is needed for delivering appropriate care.

In addition to providing engaging lectures by experts, the conference was designed to “practice what it preached” by incorporating blended learning techniques into sessions that included group work, discussion, and readings. The participants strengthened relationships with others from their institutions and from hospitals across the globe. “Training circles” from the various geographical regions will be developed in order to maintain these professional alliances and facilitate dialogue on teaching techniques for ophthalmic assistant and residency programs.

The founder of Aravind, Dr. Venkataswamy (Dr. V) was a dedicated follower of spiritual leader, Sri Aurobindo. The conference focused on one of Sri Aurobindo’s philosophies on “perfecting teaching”:

The first principle of true teaching is that nothing can be taught. The teacher is not an instructor or taskmaster; he is a helper and a guide. His business is to suggest and not to impose. He does not actually train the pupil’s mind, he only shows him how to perfect his instruments of knowledge and helps and encourages him in the process. He does not impart knowledge to him, he shows him how to acquire the knowledge for himself.

Dr. Golnik examined this idea in one of his talks on the ‘changing paradigms in eye care training’ by explaining that teaching does not equate to learning. It is especially important to emphasize translational learning throughout the education process in ophthalmic assistant training programs, as the acquired knowledge will quickly evolve into skills that are used with patients. (Fun fact: The weekend before the conference, we visited Sri Aurobindo’s ashram in Pondicherry.)

Everyone at the conference was delightful to interact with. I ended up serving as a sort of liaison between the facilitators and attendees to gauge whether the educational goals of the physicians and trainers were being reached. Taking part in the icebreaker activities, coffee breaks, and meal times allowed me to get to know the participants on a more personal level. My new friends include a pediatric ophthalmologist from Tibet, project managers from China, an ophthalmologist who serves tribes in Gujarat, doctors from Malawi, and hospital directors from Andhra Pradesh. These are only a few of the diverse and talented medical professionals and educators that traveled to Madurai to enhance their training programs.

Though the Aurosiksha lessons incorporated scientific knowledge, clinical skills, and collaborations with medical personnel, this entire internship experience has had an educational, people-centric focus. I previously had no background in evaluating what or how to teach students, especially since I am currently still a student. Hepsiba, Nithya, Sakthipriya, and I have taught and learned from each other, brainstorming new ideas and troubleshooting a process that previously had limited direction. The Aurosiksha department will be expanding in the coming year to accommodate a higher volume of material. This training resource has the potential to reach multitudes of new trainees and will hopefully allow MLOPs to treat patients with a confident and well-informed approach.

Highlights of the past two weeks

-Presenting with Hepsiba to over 250 trainees who had just arrived at Aravind for orientation. It was powerful to see the future audience of Aurosiksha and the new, more innovative training techniques. They also enjoyed our skits and my attempts at using Tamil.

-Receiving free chocolate cake because the kitchen staff recognized me as “the foreigner that loves cake”. (Clearly I’ve developed a good reputation)

-Eating at the same café in Kodaikanal 3 times because their pizza, fries, pasta, desserts, etc. were so good

-Spending the majority of the Kodaikanal trip petting the homestay’s “watch dog”, Bruno

-Visiting Aravind’s beautiful Pondicherry branch hospital

-Falling through the sidewalk into a ditch in Pondicherry, driving by an exploding firework in an auto rickshaw

-Discovering Arun Butterscotch ice cream

My pet dog, Bruno. Aka Butterscotch

A very suspicious Bruno

The whole intern group (and Priya) at the Pondicherry branch of Aravind

The whole intern group (and Priya) at the Pondicherry branch of Aravind

Me and faculty facilitator, Dr. Susan Gilbert of the Seva Foundation

Me and faculty facilitator, Dr. Susan Gilbert of the Seva Foundation

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About oliviamhess

I interned at Aravind Eye Hospital-Madurai as a CASI Student Programs Intern in 2015, and I am returning to Aravind in Pondicherry to conduct research using CASI Summer Travel Funds, the Association of Alumnae Rosemary D. Mazzatenta Scholars Award, and the Gelfman International Summer Fund.