Wills International Resident Experience (WIRE)

In November 2011, Wills announced an ambitious Wills Eye Global Initiative.  This initiative, which has been generously supported by the Wills Eye administration, faculty, residents, and the Wills Eye Hospital Society, aims to position Wills Eye as an important contributor and leader in the fight against preventable blindness worldwide.

As a first step, Wills established two formal collaborations in the developing world, one with the Instituto de Ojos Sacro Cuore in Peru and the other with Tenwek Hospital in Kenya, where Wills graduate John Cropsey was practicing at the time. Working with these partners abroad, Wills was able to expand its educational offerings to Wills residents by providing a structured introduction to global ophthalmology through the Wills International Resident Experience (WIRE). Since 2012, fourteen highly motivated senior residents have participated in the WIRE, with five of this year’s eight senior residents having travelled to Central America and Africa to work in outreach clinics under the guidance of incredible ophthalmology mentors.

The residents’ evaluations of these experiences have been glowing, with many citing the WIRE as the highlight of their residency.  These immersive experiences have been both inspirational and instructive. Over the course of up to two weeks, the residents learn manual small incision cataract surgery, see different presentations and types of disease, participate in charity clinics and screenings, and are exposed to different models of health care delivery to the poor.  By giving our residents these opportunities, we hope to empower them to incorporate global ophthalmology into their budding careers, thus spreading Wills’ model of skill with compassion beyond our borders and into the world.

In addition to the new residency experience, we have leveraged Wills’ incredible expertise in ophthalmic education and clinical care by creating distance-learning opportunities for our partners abroad. We have piloted a program to webcast our Friday morning Chief Rounds as well as other teaching rounds, enabling ophthalmologists in Peru, Kenya, and Rwanda to watch live and ask questions. We hope to expand this program over the coming years, as we have ophthalmology training centers in Egypt, China, and Bulgaria eagerly awaiting the chance to join us.  We have also invited these ophthalmologists to take advantage of the Wills Eye Knowledge Portal in order to access valuable lectures and surgical videos presented by Wills Eye faculty.

Wills has been serving the international community for decades through a multitude of means, and as part of the Global Initiative, we are starting to collect information on the widespread global activities of our faculty including volunteer efforts, global collaborations, and the international fellows that they mentor each year.

In recognition of the impact that Wills Eye has made in Global Ophthalmology and in order to encourage further involvement, Dr. David Paton, founder of Project Orbis, recently donated $145,000 to Wills to support Academic Global Ophthalmology. Dr. Paton will be joining us on June 11, 2014 for an inaugural David Paton Lectureship in Academic Global Ophthalmology. This lectureship will take place every June as an additional Visiting Professorship at Wills Eye.

There are approximately 314 million people worldwide who are visually impaired, and 87 percent live in developing countries. Eighty-five percent of this visual impairment is preventable. Wills Eye can make a difference. We can elevate the quality of care both at home and abroad. We can help build capacity at collaborating institutions around the world. And we can inspire our young trainees to join the fight against preventable blindness.