Published in Refractive Surgery

What to Look For in a Refractive Surgery Fellowship

This is editorially independent content
9 min read

Review key factors ophthalmology residents should consider when looking at refractive surgery fellowship programs.

What to Look For in a Refractive Surgery Fellowship
You are finishing up residency and excited to get out in the real world. However, you find yourself at the fork of either pursuing an additional year of training by doing a fellowship or proceeding on to becoming an attending.
To gain expertise in a specialized field—in this case, refractive surgery—many aspiring ophthalmologists opt for a refractive surgery fellowship after completing their residency.
In this article, we will discuss the essential factors to consider when evaluating ophthalmology refractive surgery fellowships.

Why pursue a refractive surgery fellowship?

Fellowship is the final transition between medical training and practice. It provides that one last opportunity for young ophthalmologists to fine-tune and hone their skills before venturing out into the real world. Choosing the right fellowship program is a critical decision that can significantly impact your professional development.
The first question you should ask yourself when choosing a fellowship is: “Why?” Refractive surgery is an innovative subspecialty of ophthalmology that focuses on the rapid correction of vision problems, such as myopia, hyperopia, astigmatism, and presbyopia.
Pursuing a refractive surgery fellowship offers several compelling reasons, including these top three:
  1. Expertise: Fellowships provide specialized training, allowing you to develop advanced surgical skills and expertise in refractive procedures like laser in situ keratomileusis (LASIK), photorefractive keratectomy (PRK), small incision lenticule extraction (SMILE), and lens-based surgeries.
  2. Career advancement: Becoming a refractive surgeon opens up opportunities in both academic institutions and private practices, where demand for refractive procedures is consistently high.
  3. Patient impact: Restoring or enhancing patients' vision through refractive surgery can be incredibly rewarding, making it a gratifying career choice. It is also a huge responsibility. Having adequate experience is critical, and extensive experience in dealing with patients’ needs and learning how to set up expectations for your patients is invaluable.

The benefits of a refractive surgery fellowship

While a fellowship is not required for performing refractive surgery, there are a few key benefits and advantages of having that additional year of training.
  1. Mentorship: You'll receive guidance and mentorship from experienced refractive surgeons, accelerating your learning curve and skill development. You will always have someone to call to go over difficult cases and to run ideas by.
  2. Clinical exposure: Fellowships provide access to a high caseload of refractive surgery patients, giving you hands-on experience and confidence in performing these procedures. Having clinical experience can not be understated, especially in refractive surgery. This is a niche of ophthalmology that requires extreme focus and precision to give your patients the best possible care.
  3. Research opportunities: Many fellowship programs encourage or require involvement in research projects, fostering your academic and publication skills. This will allow them to gain opportunities to instill their position in the refractive surgery market as a key opinion leader.

Available US refractive surgery fellowships

Numerous refractive surgery fellowships are available throughout the United States.
Some prestigious refractive surgery fellowship programs include:
  • The Cleveland Eye Clinic – Clear Choice LASIK Center
  • Vance Thompson Vision
  • Minnesota Eye Consultants
  • The Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins University
  • The Dean McGee Eye Institute in Oklahoma City

Criteria for choosing a refractive surgery fellowship

When evaluating refractive surgery fellowships, consider the following criteria:

Reputation

Research the program's reputation within the ophthalmology community. Seek feedback from current and former fellows and faculty members to gauge the program's credibility and quality.

Experienced faculty

The expertise of the faculty members is crucial to your learning experience. Look for a fellowship program that boasts a team of experienced refractive surgeons who are not only skilled practitioners but also dedicated educators.
Strong mentorship from experts in the field can significantly accelerate your professional growth; find a mentor who is a good fit for you.

Clinical exposure

Evaluate the volume and diversity of clinical cases offered by the fellowship program. A robust clinical experience is essential for honing your surgical skills and gaining exposure to a wide range of refractive procedures.
Ensure that the program provides opportunities to work with the latest technologies and equipment in the field.

Research opportunities

Engaging in research during your fellowship can contribute to your academic and professional advancement. Investigate whether the program encourages or requires fellows to participate in research projects.
Access to research resources, ongoing studies, and mentorship in research methodology can be valuable assets. It can open many doors that allow private practice and academics to have a link.

Surgical volume

The number of surgeries you'll perform during your fellowship is a crucial factor. Look for programs that offer a substantial surgical volume, allowing you to gain hands-on experience in various refractive procedures, including LASIK, PRK, SMILE, lens-based procedures, and corneal surgeries.
Experience will always guide you through your career.

Didactic education

In addition to clinical experience, a well-rounded fellowship should include didactic education. Check if the program offers regular seminars, lectures, and conferences dedicated to refractive surgery topics.
This structured learning complements your hands-on experience and provides a comprehensive understanding of the field.

Geographic location

Consider the geographical location of the fellowship program. It's essential to choose a location that suits your lifestyle and preferences.
Think about factors like cost of living, climate, and proximity to family and friends, as these can impact your overall well-being during your fellowship.

Post-fellowship opportunities

Examine the career outcomes of past fellows. Did they secure desirable positions in academic institutions or private practices? Investigate the post-fellowship opportunities available to you upon program completion, as this can influence your long-term career prospects.

Additional steps for finding a refractive surgery fellowship

Networking is key in this process; connect with mentors, residents, and ophthalmologists in your network or at meetings to gather recommendations and insights about fellowship programs.
Further, whenever possible, visit the fellowship programs you are interested in to get a feel for the environment, faculty, and facilities. Write an email or make a phone call and speak to the mentors who host fellowships to show your interest and gain insight into their teaching styles.

Questions to ask when exploring potential fellowships

Ask the mentors and faculty:
  • What is their experience in refractive surgery?
  • Are they actively involved in clinical practice and research?
  • What is their vision for their practice and their fellowship?
Ask the past and current fellows:
  • Where have previous fellows gone after completing the program?
  • What was their overall experience during the fellowship?
  • Did they feel well-prepared for their careers as refractive surgeons?
  • Is there anything they wish they had more exposure to?

Final thoughts

Selecting the right ophthalmology refractive surgery fellowship is a pivotal step in your professional journey. Careful consideration of all that a fellowship has to offer can help make the correct choice for you.
Remember that the ideal fellowship program aligns with your career goals and sets you on a path to becoming a proficient and successful refractive surgeon.
M. Amir Moarefi, MD
About M. Amir Moarefi, MD

M. Amir Moarefi, MD, is a board-certified ophthalmologist in Los Angeles, California, specializing in laser vision correction (LASIK, PRK, SMILE) and anterior segment surgery (cataracts, glaucoma, pterygium, eyelids). He completed a refractive surgery fellowship at the Cleveland Eye Clinic, with a focus on advanced-technology lens implants, clear lens exchange and other delicate procedures. Dr. Moarefi completed his residency in ophthalmology at Case Western University – University Hospitals, and interned at UC Irvine Medical Center and the Long Beach Veterans’ Hospital. He earned his Doctor of Medicine degree from Chicago Medical School, after completing two Master’s degrees in biomedical sciences and healthcare management and administration.

M. Amir Moarefi, MD
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