Sit Down, Speak Up
With conferences no longer bound by geography, the spotlight can shift from “the West” to the rest of the world
Valentina Gracia Rey | | Opinion
Like most conferences, the World Ophthalmology Congress was held virtually this year. The event, which was supposed to take place in Cape Town, South Africa, still threw a spotlight on the country and the continent’s great talent. Although the pandemic put a stop to people physically attending, I like to think it encouraged (virtual) attendees to consider what’s going on elsewhere in the world; for example, Latin America.
Before the pandemic, Latin America showcased its talent and efforts through the Pan-American Association of Ophthalmology, which hosted monthly webinars from various countries. Though the webinars were very interesting, they took place at 6 or 7pm, when I was often too busy with patients or studying to benefit. Since Latin America went into lockdown, each country has been organizing its own webinar programs, starting with Peru – the first country to enforce a strict lockdown. And without surgery or school, I suddenly had time to watch them on an almost daily basis – and I found the content incredibly interesting.
Since then, other platforms have emerged. My favorite, from Oftalmo University, is called “Empty Chair” – a webinar that features a case or lecture from a different speaker every Wednesday. The best bit? Anyone can apply to become a speaker. By opening up the invitation in this way, Empty Chair gives a voice to many ophthalmology community members who would not usually have the chance to present to such a large audience – and these are huge webinars with hundreds of assistants – not niche shows for an exclusive group of professors. I love that everyone – even first-year residents – at least have the opportunity to present in an environment that is friendly and encouraging. It is also less stressful as a presenter because instead of standing in a huge auditorium, you get to do it from the comfort of your home.
I had the opportunity to present at this great space speaking about a novel surgical technique in keratoconus. Many residents and ophthalmologists subscribe to this platform and once the date of the live webinar starts, the attendees vote for the four titles they want to hear. The first time I subscribed I was not chosen, but the second time around it was a win. The rules are 5 minutes speaking, maximum 7 minutes, and at the end the panel chooses a winner and the audience picks another one. The interaction and advice from the panel and the public in general were great. I was nervous at first, but it was such a warm and safe space, that I just focused on doing my best.
Such initiatives seem to be having a really positive impact on Latin American ophthalmology. This has also united residencies all along the continent and the globe, letting us create a net of future ophthalmologist, and I hope they continue long after the pandemic ends.