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J. Niklas Ulrich, MD

Alice Zhang, MD

Beatrice Brewington, MD

Keirnan Willett, MD

The Vitreoretinal Fellowship Program at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill is a two-year Association of University Professors of Ophthalmology – Fellowship Compliance Committee (AUPO-FCC) compliant medical and surgical fellowship program that accepts one applicant into the program every 24 months. Fellows works alongside and are supervised by our department’s four board-certified, Vitreo-Retinal and Uveitis faculty mentors at the UNC Kittner Eye Center and UNC Hospitals Hillsborough campus.

Our fellowship program provides extensive training in all aspects of the diagnosis, clinical care and surgical management of vitreoretinal disorders. The primary goal of our program is to educate ophthalmologists to become ethical, competent, independent vitreoretinal surgeons. We aim to train leaders in the field of vitreoretinal surgery by providing an outstanding learning environment for the development of the necessary knowledge and technical skills.  While strong clinical training is the core of the program, clinical or basic science research opportunities are available and strongly encouraged in this fellowship program.

Medical Training Experience

Vitreoretinal fellows experience balanced and extensive clinical and surgical training. In both the first and second years vitreoretinal fellows are fully integrated into all aspects of medical and surgical retina. The fellows’ training takes place primarily at the UNC Kittner Eye Center, which has been housed in a new outpatient facility since August 2013.  Clinics will include exposure to conditions common to most vitreoretinal specialists’ practices, in addition to highly specialized fields of retina such as uveitis, ocular oncology and genetics.

Vitreoretinal fellows become competent at interpreting the following diagnostic modalities:

  • Ocular echography (A-scan and B-scan)
  • Spectral domain optical coherence tomography
  • Fundus photography
  • Autofluorescence
  • Fluorescein and indocyanine green angiography
  • Multifocal and Ganzfield electroretinogram
  • OCT-angiography

Our imaging department is equipped with the latest technology and is staffed with certified imaging specialists. At the UNC Kittner Eye Center, the vitreoretinal fellow serves as an attending team member on duty while teaching residents, with vitreoretinal faculty mentors seeing patients nearby in clinic to consult with as needed.

Surgical Training Experience

At the end of two years, vitreoretinal fellows are competent in the current surgical standard of care for this subspecialty and have the expertise to handle a wide range of retinal cases, from the most common to the most complex.  Fellows mainly operate at UNC Hospitals Hillsborough campus (opened July 2015). Vitreoretinal fellows spend approximately 2 days in the operating room and 3 days in clinic per week.

Vitreoretinal fellows obtain extensive hands-on experience in the operating room and work as surgeons or as first assistants, based on complexity of the case and capability of the fellow. Attending supervision is available for every vitreoretinal procedure.

In addition to procedures common to vitreoretinal specialists, vitreoretinal fellows have ample exposure to the management of complicated vitreoretinal conditions such as ocular trauma, intraocular foreign bodies, complex retinal detachments (proliferative vitreoretinopathy, giant retinal tears, advanced proliferative retinopathy, pediatric retinal detachments).

The intraoperative techniques that vitreoretinal fellows become familiar with include: 23-, 25- and 27 gauge instrumentation; contact and non-contact viewing systems such as the Resight, small and wide field contact lens; chandelier systems; scleral buckling techniques; pneumatic retinopexy; cryocoagulation; drug delivery implants; intravitreal injections; radioactive plaque management and Retcam imaging.

Vitreoretinal fellows become proficient in all modalities of laser photocoagulation: indirect and slit lamp delivery and photodynamic therapy.

The vitreoretinal fellows have access to the UNC Ophthalmology’s state-of-the-art, shared Miracles in Sight Surgical Skills Laboratory and can practice newly acquired techniques and assist in teaching residents.

Research Opportunities

Though strong clinical training is the core of this program, research opportunities (both clinical and basic science) abound at UNC Ophthalmology.  The research interests of the faculty include a wide variety of clinical, translational and basic science projects. UNC’s extensive cross-disciplinary research community can also provide valuable resources.

Vitreoretinal fellows are expected to participate in at least one research project and are encouraged and funded to present research at academic meetings. Research projects are presented by fellows and residents in a dedicated program hosted each June by UNC Ophthalmology. The research interests of the faculty include a wide variety of clinical, translational and basic science projects. UNC’s extensive research community can also provide valuable resources.

Clinical Trials

UNC Eye is involved in many multicenter collaborative clinical trials and fellows obtain knowledge of clinical trial operations and procedures. Although FDA regulations restrict the ability for fellows to directly participate in some clinical trials, the vitreoretinal fellows play an active role in the care of these patients.


Vitreoretinal fellows have many opportunities to teach and supervise residents and medical students in clinics, on the hospital consult service, during procedures and in clinical conferences.


Vitreoretinal fellows meet on a regular basis with the retina faculty, residents and rotating medical students to discuss interesting topics. Vitreoretinal fellows provide some didactics to the residents, in addition to participating in a variety of conferences and seminars at UNC Eye. Teaching conferences include retinal imaging conferences, surgical case conferences, ocular oncology tumor board, morbidity and mortality rounds, and retina journal clubs.

Evaluation of Fellows

Fellows receive both formal (every 6 months) and frequent informal feedback from faculty regarding their progress in training.


The fellow will take Vitreo-Retinal call with attending supervision on weekdays and every other weekend. Fellows also serve in rotation as faculty-on-call for trauma (open globe) call 1 out of every 6-8 weeks.

Salary, Vacation & Benefits

UNC Department of Ophthalmology offers highly competitive salary compensation to its fellows. As medical staff appointees, UNC Ophthalmology fellows also receive a generous benefits package that includes medical malpractice insurance and health benefits.

Fellows are allowed two weeks of vacation per year. Extra time will be allotted towards end of fellowship for job interviews as well as for meeting presentations, fellow-specific wet labs and courses.  UNC Ophthalmology follows the University of North Carolina holiday schedule for all residents and fellows.


Fellows must obtain an unrestricted North Carolina state medical license prior to beginning the fellowship. All three parts of the USMLE must be passed for the North Carolina medical license.

Application Process

Applicants should apply to the San Francisco matching program ( and complete the CAS retina fellowship application.