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Competitive ophthalmology residency program continues to attract a top-notch group

Motivated. Professional. Intelligent. Team players. These are the qualities that University of Minnesota ophthalmology residency program director Martha Wright, M.D., looks for in prospective residents.

University of Minnesota ophthalmology residents and faculty work closely together. Here, resident Peter Mellema, M.D. (right), consults with attending physician Joseph Terry, M.D.

“We want people whom you would want for your doctor,” she says.

The University’s ophthalmology residency program continues to attract a talented group of applicants. “There is stiff competition,” says Wright, who is also an associate professor in the Department of Ophthalmology. “We get more than 200 applications for just four spots each year. Most of the people who apply are very bright.”

And the University needs a bright, dedicated group of physicians who are up for a challenge. After completing medical school and a 12-month internship, new doctors spend another three years training in residency programs before becoming independent ophthalmologists. During their residencies, they work in ophthalmology clinics and operating rooms to hone and perfect their skills.

Wright explains that while the residents in the University’s program generally receive multiple job offers, the majority of them stay in Minnesota after completing their training.

Third-year resident Kevin Engel, M.D., Ph.D., is one of them. Engel has accepted a faculty position at HCMC, where he will work as a general ophthalmologist upon the completion of his residency in the fall of 2007.

“During my residency I’ve learned that I like working with that group of people, both the staff and the population of patients,” says Engel, whose doctorate is in the neuroscience of eye movements. “I like the variety and complexity of problems we see at Hennepin County, and I’m looking forward to being on staff there.”

A rotating schedule

Over the course of their first year, residents spend three months at HCMC in Minneapolis, three months at Regions Hospital, and six months at the University. HCMC and Regions are regional trauma centers and, as county hospitals, also provide care to large indigent and immigrant populations, giving residents exposure to a diverse range of patient needs. Because of the faculty’s expertise in subspecialties of ophthalmology, patients with the most complex cases are generally seen at the University.

The first year of resident training focuses on the basics of ophthalmology, including diagnostics and clinical examination. Many Fridays are spent at teaching conferences, where residents present patient cases and discuss them with faculty members in the audience. Surgical training is part of the first year as well.

Residents also have a call schedule, which is particularly demanding during the first year of residency, when they are on call for a week at a time.

The entire second year of the residency is spent at the University, with rotations to subspecialty clinics—including glaucoma, retina, and pediatrics—lasting three months each. Surgery is also included in second-year training.

In their third year, residents spend three months at each of the two county hospitals, and the remaining six months are spent at the VAMC, where residents gain extensive experience performing cataract and other intraocular surgery.

Rewards of residency

For Wright, the most rewarding aspect of working with residents is “seeing their professional, medical, and surgical skills develop as they go through the program. There’s a huge transformation over the three years.”

Jill Melicher Larson, M.D., a second-year ophthalmology resident, finds that the best thing about completing her residency at the University is working with people who truly love what they do.

“The enthusiasm the ophthalmology faculty members show toward their profession is unlike any other I’ve experienced,” she says. “As residents, we get to work with people who are excited about what they do and who are experts in their field.”

Jerry Kobrin, M.D., adjunct professor and director of the residency program at Regions, is equally impressed with the first- and third-year residents he has worked with over the years.

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