Prevention of Global Blindness Fellowship Program
Overview and Mission
In 2013, the Mountain View Outreach partnered with the Truhlsen Eye Institute and the University of Nebraska to develop the Prevention of Global Blindness Fellowship program. Our mission is simple: to send the most highly trained and motivated ophthalmologists we can find to the most underdeveloped and under-served areas of the world where the surgeries and treatments they can provide will be most sorely needed. International ophthalmology and global blindness prevention have witnessed significant growth over the last two decades. Launch of the Vision 2020 initiative and the emergence of international organizations with the aim of eliminating avoidable blindness in developing countries were the main driving factors in generating awareness and interest, particularly among young ophthalmologists. While significant gains in the fight against avoidable blindness have been made, there still exists a massive shortage in training programs designed to groom the next generation of leaders in the fight against avoidable and preventable blindness. And so, the fight continues. The Prevention of Global Blindness fellowship is only one small step in molding the future landscape of treatment and education for preventable blindness. For more information about how you can help, read through each section below, apply online, or call Mountain View Eye Center at (907) 328-2920.
What It Entails
The fellowship in Global Blindness Prevention and Community Outreach is a unique 1-year experience in which the applicant spends the majority of his/her time working at partner institutions in Nepal, Haiti, Ethiopia and Ghana. The focus is providing clinical and surgical care, learning new surgical techniques, participating in skill transfer programs with local ophthalmologists, and contributing to the development of each site’s unique eye care delivery systems. The balance of the year is spent working in a private practice setting at Mountain View Eye Center in Fairbanks, Alaska. The fellow has the unique opportunity to provide comprehensive care in beautiful interior Alaska while learning the ins and outs of clinic management and coding in a state-of-the-art facility. The final weeks of the fellowship are spent at Truhlsen Eye Institute working on community outreach programs that deliver eye care to local Native Americans. Note to applicants: this fellowship is only open to applicants who have completed an ophthalmology residency program in the United States. See below if interested in applying.
History, Clinics, and Words from the Founders
Truhlsen Eye Institute
It was at the conclusion of Dr. Feilmeier’s residency that he set his sights on completing a first-of-its-kind cornea fellowship that would also provide training in the prevention of global blindness. The fellowship allowed both Dr. Feilmeier and his wife, Jessica, to spend part of that year living abroad, validating Mike’s desire to dedicate a significant component of his career to providing his expertise and surgical skills to curb needless blindness, but also opening up Jessica’s eyes to the world of ophthalmology. She subsequently left her career as a business development director for Fortune 500 companies to dedicate her skills to the cause of global blindness prevention. Following fellowship Mike joined Midwest Eye Care, a private practice in his hometown of Omaha, NE. It was then that he and Jessica approached UNMC to develop the Global Blindness Prevention Division as a way to continue the work they’d come to jointly love.
Michael Feilmeier, MD
Undergraduate Nebraska Wesleyan University
Medical School University of Nebraska Medical Center
Residency Bascom Palmer Eye Institute
Fellowship Cornea/Prevention of Global Blindness, John A. Moran Eye Center
“The fellowship is designed to force our fellows to rethink their limits and expand their capabilities in every practice setting. It’s a chance to discover different cultures and see stunning parts of the world while amassing the tools and professional network one needs to incorporate global blindness prevention into any career they choose.” – Michael Feilmeier, MD
Undergraduate San Diego State University
“Our initial goal was to develop a platform at UNMC that would provide opportunities for increased global engagement for medical students, residents, fellows, and faculty while simultaneously helping to prevent needless blindness wherever our work took us. In our first year we were successfully organizing outreaches on a regular basis to a plethora of countries and hosting physicians from around the world for skill-transfer education. With this success, we set out to tackle our deepest rooted desire to help cultivate the next wave of leaders in global blindness prevention.”
– Jessica Feilmeier
Mountain View Eye Center
Located in the second largest Alaskan city by population, Fairbanks is the heart of the Interior where quality of life remains the main reason why people choose to live there. It is ideal for those who want to combine their professional development with their desire to explore the wild outdoors. Every Alaskan has a hobby – whether it’s fishing, hunting, dog mushing, snowmobiling, hiking or skiing. Mountain View Eye Center has become the region’s gem, as the only state-of-the-art eye care facility, making it an ideal partner for the Prevention of Global Blindness Fellowship.
Katherine Johnson, MD
Undergraduate Harvard University
Medical School University of California San Diego
Residency Bascom Palmer Eye Institute
“Having trained at Bascom Palmer with Mike, I had kept abreast of the work that he and Jessica were doing and it reminded me that what we do in ophthalmology and medicine is terribly important. To have this set of skills is a privilege. To use our knowledge fruitfully for others’ betterment, to advocate tirelessly to improve society’s lot no matter if you do so locally or abroad, and to care sincerely about those whom you encounter, can only lead to your own personal fulfillment. Needless to say, I was honored when they approached me to partner with them to develop the Prevention of Global Blindness Fellowship.”
– Katherine Johnson, MD.
The Fellowship’s First Year: Dr. Sriranjani Padmanabhan
Sriranjani Padmanabhan, MD
Undergraduate Northwestern University
Medical School University of Rochester
Residency Scheie Eye Institute
“Having been the first fellow to complete this fellowship I can attest that it is even better than you can possibly imagine. The following are a few excepts from my rotation reports describing what I encountered and learned along the way during my year as the Prevention of Global Blindness Fellow.”
All my clinical skills were immediately put to the test in Haiti — a gorgeous country with a dearth of ophthalmologists and an epidemic of blindness. I quickly discovered that most ophthalmologic diseases in this unique population, particularly glaucoma, have distinct natural histories and unreported idiosyncrasies. I could not simply transfer over my American training. Instead, I had to keep an open mind and think creatively to solve clinical problems. There are so many epiphanies like this working abroad — you think you know the answer to a particular medical or scientific question based on your experience in the States, only to discover that your knowledge and textbooks are either incomplete or irrelevant. This type of education is truly priceless.
Working at Tilganga Institute of Ophthalmology (TIO) showed me the scope of possibility for eye care in the developing world. Every ophthalmologist needs to visit Tilganga in their lifetime to see how a group of dedicated and highly talented professionals successfully tackle blindness, delivering care of the highest quality despite the level of economic development of their nation. In keeping humanitarian outreach a core part of their mission, TIO becomes not only a model for developing nations but also institutes in the Western world. I felt lucky to learn there.
In Ethiopia I realized that the true professional reward of this fellowship was not just the skill building activities — operating, organizing, teaching, and skill transferring, but also witnessing the emotional transformation of the patients whose lives you’ve forever changed following surgery. The morning that you remove the patches of hundreds of patients at the same time is truly a moving and joyful experience.
I witnessed ophthalmology training programs in transition. In partnership with organizations and professionals from around the world, Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital is making great progress in modernizing its facilities and creating skilled physicians and surgeons. It was a privilege to be a small part of this movement, and I feel motivated to be permanently involved in the positive changes to come forth.
In the context of my experiences and lessons learned abroad, coming back and practicing in beautiful Fairbanks, Alaska was a joy. Instead of feeling stale, practicing in the States seemed a breath of fresh air. I was able to see disease that routinely blinds people abroad addressed swiftly and efficiently. Working with Dr. Johnson was incredible and rapidly taught me about running an efficient medical practice. Plus, Alaskans of all stripes, Alaska Natives, immigrants, adventurers, and all those in between — are a highly diverse and fun group to care for.
“This year has allowed me to use my training to the maximum level possible, forcing me to be resourceful in low resource clinics, think creatively in the operating room without the usual spread of instruments, and recall information about diseases I learned about, but never dreamed I would actually see.” – Sriranjani Padmanabhan, MD