Research fellows are working with John B. Miller, MD, Director of the Retinal Imaging Laboratory at Mass Eye and Ear, to offer early ophthalmology exposure to under-represented in medicine (URM) premedical students at Harvard College through clinical, research, and mentorship opportunities. Ned Lu, a student at Harvard Medical School, and Augustine Bannerman, a 2021 graduate of Harvard College, developed and co-direct the mentoring program that matches each student with a mentor to help support their career development and interest in ophthalmology. This past spring, they welcomed 16 Harvard students into the program.
Racial and ethnic disparities in healthcare are prevalent in the United States, and vision care is no exception. Lu and Bannerman co-first authored an editorial in the Journal of VitreoRetinal Diseases that discusses the need for more diversity within the field of ophthalmology in order to provide better patient care to the underserved communities that need it most.
“The goal of this program is to expose underrepresented in medicine students to ophthalmology opportunities before medical school, so that if the specialty interests them, we can help cultivate and support that interest and create a more diverse pipeline of future ophthalmologists,” said Bannerman.
In additional to one-on-one mentoring, Lu and Bannerman put together a Virtual Shadowing Series featuring faculty members Eric Gaier, MD, PhD; Alice Lorch, MD, MPH; Ankoor Shah, MD, PhD; David Solá-Del Valle, MD; and Aisha Traish, MD, who presented patient cases and discussed their path to ophthalmology.
“It can be challenging to arrange clinical and research opportunities in surgical specialties like ophthalmology, especially during a pandemic,” said Lu. “Through the Virtual Shadowing Series, we aimed to simulate an in-person shadowing experience by inviting Harvard Ophthalmology faculty to present patient cases, show surgical videos, and discuss their backgrounds in a virtual setting."
Students in the program also had the option to explore ophthalmology research opportunities while they continue their undergraduate education. Three members of the program are now involved in ophthalmology research at Mass Eye and Ear, and one of the students was invited to present their retina research at the 2021 Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology annual meeting in May.
For the upcoming fall 2021 semester, Bannerman and Lu plan to accept more undergraduate students into the program, and also welcome back returning students from the spring semester.