As we head into 2018, it is hard to believe that I have served as Vanderbilt’s chair for 15 years. Our growth during that time period has been exponential by any metric, including our faculty size increasing from 14 to 58! At the same time, our clinical activity has increased from 35,000 visits annually to over 150,000in 2017. We now see patients at 14 locations, and have considerable depth in every subspecialty.
At the same time, our educational programs are thriving. Our residency program is more popular than ever. In addition, beginning this past year, we initiated a combined internship program, where our new residents will first complete a year as a surgery intern at Vanderbilt. During that year, they will spend 3 months in ophthalmology, so that they will start their formal residency with considerable experience and skills in our field. We also will be inaugurating our third fellowship program this summer, adding oculoplastics to our superb training in pediatric ophthalmology and retina. In addition, we provide superb continuing educational programs, ranging from our annual Pearls comprehensive ophthalmology program to Morbidity Mortality and Improvement conferences to specialty programs in Advocacy and in Ethics. Finally, we have a marvelous orthoptics training program.
However, it is even more striking that our research program has exploded. In 2003, we had two grants from the National Eye Institute and ranked below #50 in ophthalmology department NIH funding; in 2017, the Vanderbilt Eye Institute ascended to the top ten, ranking eighth, and in 2018, we rose to 3rd in the Blue Ridge Rankings for NIH funding in ophthalmology.
As at every institution with a robust research enterprise, success in grant funding is the result of outstanding efforts by superb scientists: and we are privileged to have an extraordinary team of vision researchers. However, there are superb investigators across the country. At the Vanderbilt Eye Institute, our vision research initiative has been driven by three additional critical ingredients: a well -defined strategic plan, outstanding mentorship, and remarkable collaboration.
VEI has a clear vision of our research priorities. From the outset, we determined that we could not study all parts of the eye and all diseases. Rather, we felt that our ability to maximize impact would result from narrowing our focus to the key blinding diseases: age-related macular degeneration, retinal vascular diseases (diabetic retinopathy and ROP), and glaucoma. We selected 4 research initiatives defined by approach and discipline: interventional medicine, vascular biology and nanotechnology, pharmacogenomics and human genetics, and aging and regenerative medicine. We promoted cross-fertilization and linked these initiatives to the blinding diseases: Preserving Vision Through Discovery.
Mentorship is another key ingredient to out “secret sauce”. Our research enterprise consists of a senior scientist directing an initiative with a team of more junior investigators. Each faculty member has a mentor or a committee or mentors to oversee their career development. Scientists are encouraged to take care of Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s robust trove of resources to assist in idea development, grant writing, and access to core resources.
Finally, Vanderbilt boast a unique culture of collegiality and collaboration that enhances every discovery program. At VEI, we are home to the Vanderbilt Vision Research Center, a collaboration of over 50 vision scientists across campus, from bioengineering to psychology. We have developed impressive core resources, co-host research seminars, and share talented trainees and technical support. In addition, our investigators have as many as 150 collaborations within and outside Vanderbilt, strengthening our efforts to fuel discovery, share ideas, and bring others into our exciting.
As inspired as I am by the impact we are having on patient care, training, and discovery, the future is even brighter. I invite you to explore our website to learn more about VEI and our quest to transform vision care in the 21st century.