Ophthalmology Opportunities for Medical Students

As the landscape for practicing medicine evolves in the United States, so too does the education of our future doctors at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine (VUSM). The recent VUSM changes to Curriculum 2.0, with an emphasis on case-based learning, group-based discussion, and patient-based care, influence the way medical students and their interests in Ophthalmology will be introduced and reinforced.

In 2013, Dr. Mark Ewald was selected to lead medical student education at the Vanderbilt Eye Institute (VEI) for both Vanderbilt medical students and visiting medical students from other institutions.

"Currently, due to time constraints during medical school, we occasionally see a challenge for medical students to explore their curiosity in ophthalmology," says Ewald. "However, we have many opportunities for medical students throughout their years in medical school to investigate Ophthalmology and see all our dynamic field has to offer."

Drs. Mark Ewald and Karla Johns conduct a week of Ophthalmology education for first year medical students, including a practical session to learn how to use a direct ophthalmoscope by examining dilated eyes, reading about the basic elements of an external and anterior segment ophthalmic exam and attending a didactic lecture exploring the anterior and posterior segments of the eye. Dr. Paul Sternberg, Chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology and past president of the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), also gives a brief introduction to Ophthalmology during this final session, which medical students find inspiring.

As second year medical students, research opportunities with the faculty of VEI are encouraged, so medical students can further investigate the ophthalmologic field and gain some experience into ophthalmic research.

Third year medical students can perform up to two elective rotations in Ophthalmology. The first can be during regular elective time as a third year medical student.  The second opportunity is during the surgical block rotation, when students have the opportunity to choose ophthalmology as one of two elective sub-rotations. Both electives are two weeks long and include time at VEI and the Veterans Administration (VA) Nashville Eye clinic working with Vanderbilt residents and attendings.

Once medical students are committed to Ophthalmology, they work closely with the VEI faculty to prepare their application as a fourth year student. Fourth year rotations are one month long, with a week each in pediatrics, anterior segment, retina and the VA. During these four weeks, medical students are expected to help in clinics by examining patients and observing in the operating room. Students are also encouraged to work with the consult residents to see acute ophthalmic issues in the emergency room and the inpatient setting.

Outside of Vanderbilt University Medical Center, fourth year students can do a month long elective with Dr. Ralph Wesley, a local oculoplastic specialist, who has a great breadth of knowledge, depth of observable pathology and love of teaching.

"We are very excited there are multiple ways to engage our current medical students and future ophthalmology residents at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.  We feel that our clinical, surgical and research opportunities give our medical students a view into the exciting and rewarding field of Ophthalmology," says Ewald.