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When 2021-2022 Glaucoma fellow Josh Paul, MD, finished interviews, he knew UNC’s program would push him hardest over 12 months of learning his subspecialty. For 2020-2022 UNC Vitreoretinal Surgery fellow John Deans, MD, the UNC Ophthalmology faculty who had introduced him to retinal disease fundamentals during residency were the very mentors he wanted to guide him through an intensive 24-month curriculum.Ulrich-Deans

Year after year, fellows like Dr. Paul immerse themselves in learning the pathophysiology associated with glaucoma and multitude of options used to treat this multi-faceted disease.

Dr. Paul noted: “UNC Eye Kittner Center is structured and dynamic, and I greatly enjoy working with faculty in clinic who are exceptionally accomplished, renowned, and diverse in their training, yet all the while extremely humble. The environment of academic curiosity constantly challenges a fellow to do their best in medical and surgical care and academic endeavors.”

In medical school and residency, research and clinical mentors exposed Glaucoma Fellowship Program Director David Fleischman, MD, to an exceptional level of glaucoma knowledge that solidified his choice of subspecialty. Now responsible for guiding fellows toward achieving their full capacity as physicians and scholars, Dr. Fleischman challenges his trainees to be immersive learners over a fast-moving 12 months.

He noted: “Our fellows need to submerge themselves fully in glaucoma, to see everything and to obsess over it. As knowledge increases, fellows recognize many problems or deficiencies in our understanding and care of glaucoma patients.”J. Paul teaching Budenz.JPG

Over two years, Vitreoretinal Surgery fellows like Dr. Deans work toward full competence in the diagnosis and clinical care of conditions commonly seen in vitreoretinal practice such as such as uveitis, diabetic eye disease and macular degeneration. At UNC Hospitals’ state-of-the-art ophthalmology OR, fellows learn to surgically treat and manage highly complex vitreoretinal conditions such as ocular trauma and retinal detachment.

Dr. Deans noted: “During residency, UNC’s stellar retina faculty introduced me to a wide range of retinal pathology and the ever-growing treatment options used to medically and surgically manage retinal disease.  UNC has such a culture of collegiality, and I was confident that if I stayed for fellowship, I would have a high-quality, comprehensive training experience.”

Vitreoretinal Surgery Fellowship Program Director Jan Ulrich, MD, is also the Department’s Vice Chair for Faculty Development. He noted:

“Our set curriculum for fellows prepares them for a fulfilling career, whether it’s in academia or private practice. For residents aspiring to train as retinal subspecialists, we ensure they have opportunities to work on research projects in retina and perform supervised, hands-on clinical and surgical training at UNC Hospitals Hillsborough and the Fayetteville VA.”

Fellows are vital to UNC Ophthalmology’s clinical instruction and didactics for residents and UNC medical students.  At the high-volume UNC Kittner Eye Center, Drs. Paul and Deans supervise and lecture residents during weekly clinics specific to their subspecialties. Both fellows additionally oversee residents as they progress in procedural competence during trauma call and in scheduled surgeries at UNC Hospitals Hillsborough.

Dr. Paul noted: “One of the program’s many strengths is the autonomy fellows are given in supervising and working alongside residents and medical students.”

Dr. Deans stated: “One of the most gratifying parts of my fellowship is seeing residents grow in their abilities to diagnose and treat retinal disease. My goal is to pique interest in retina disease and encourage residents to pursue vitreoretinal surgery for fellowship training.”

Drs. Paul and Deans depart UNC Ophthalmology mid-2022 as newly minted subspecialists ready for independent practice. In fellowship, these graduates foremost were learners, progressing through intensive clinical training to master diagnosis, patient care and surgical management of conditions related to their respective areas of focus. Not to be overlooked, however, the time both invested in teaching residents and medical students amidst their own training is a reminder of the vital contributions that all fellows make in academic medicine as educators.