CaRMS Ophthalmology Resident Panel Series: Dalhousie, Queen’s, Toronto, McMaster, and Western

Jan 30 , 2022 | 8 min

On November 9, 2021, the Canadian Council of Ophthalmology Residents (CCOR) and Canadian Ophthalmology Student Interest Group (COSIG) premiered the first-ever national resident panel series in ophthalmology. The series panned three consecutive evenings from November 9-11, 2021 and featured residents from across the country who shared their experiences applying to ophthalmology, factors that drew them to the specialty, tips for navigating the CaRMS process, and qualities that make their program unique. Each evening concluded with a question-and-answer discussion period to foster open dialogue.

This series was met with overwhelming interest, and on our first evening, we had over 90 medical students in attendance. The event featured:

The event was moderated by Dr. Michael Nguyen, PGY4 Ophthalmology at the University of Toronto and President of CCOR.

Dalhousie University

The evening commenced with Dr. Devin Betsch, PGY4 Ophthalmology at Dalhousie University.

Why ophthalmology?

I decided to pursue ophthalmology after completing my surgery block in clerkship, where I realized that I enjoyed working in a hands-on environment and appreciated the balance of clinic and surgery in ophthalmology.

What is your number one tip for CaRMS?

Don’t be afraid to show your personality in your personal statement and interview! Personal statements can help people stand out, so if there is something memorable or unique to you, then you should consider weaving it into your story. Also, be sure to practice for interviews on Zoom with a friend, since CaRMS interviews will be virtual this year. It’s always helpful to prepare for classic questions, and when interviewing virtually, it can be helpful to practice verbalizing your answers and where you look on camera as well.

Can you tell us a bit about Dalhousie University’s program size and strengths?

Dalhousie typically has 2-3 residents per year; this number may alternate from year to year. Some of our program’s strengths include collegiality among the entire department, strong research support, and excellent surgical training. We also have a centralized eye care centre, so the operating rooms and clinics (both general and subspecialty) are all within walking distance from another, which makes it easy to consult services or move from clinic to OR. Another key strength is the city of Halifax--it’s a good size with great restaurants and proximity to the ocean. There’s always lots to do!  

What are some of the initiatives available for wellness and peer support at Dalhousie University?

We have a dedicated resident wellness fund with a representative who helps organize events. We also routinely attend events hosted by MarDocs, which is the Maritime Resident Doctors Association. Some examples include harbour cruises, apple picking, and movie nights.  

What is the surgical and subspecialty exposure like at Dalhousie University?

PGY1 is off service. Our residents start ophthalmology service in PGY2, where they get early exposure to oculoplastics cases and strabismus surgeries right from the get-go. PGY3 offers more exposure to subspecialty rotations. PGY4 and PGY5 have a surgical focus, which includes cataracts, as well as a wide variety of subspecialty surgical procedures (ex. trabeculectomy, shunt procedures, vitrectomy). We also have access to our wet labs and surgical simulator throughout PGY1-5, with modules that we complete prior to performing intraocular surgery. Subspecialty exposure at Dalhousie includes neuro-ophthalmology, oculoplastics, surgical and medical retina, cornea, and ocular oncology; we also have excellent exposure to pediatrics and glaucoma, with fellows on-site for these subspecialties.

Queen’s University

We then heard from Dr. Tiandra Ceyhan, PGY3 Ophthalmology at Queen’s University.

Why ophthalmology?

I chose ophthalmology because it was a great mix of medicine and surgery, and I really enjoyed the microsurgery aspect of it as well.

What is your number one tip for CaRMS?

Film yourself answering practice interview questions--you can learn a lot from observing the way you answer questions and some of your mannerisms. I would also echo the sentiment to verbalize answers when practising questions.

Can you tell us a bit about Queen’s University’s program size and strengths?

Queen’s typically has 2-3 residents each year. Our strengths include collegiality between staff and residents, centralized care shared between two hospitals, excellent surgical teaching, and a strong focus on wellness. The program is largely based out of the Hôtel-Dieu Hospital, but we also spend some time at the Kingston General Hospital. A unique quality of the surgical teaching at Queen’s is our cataract rounds, where we review staff and resident cataract surgery videos for performance feedback.

What are some of the initiatives available for wellness and peer support at Queen’s University?

We’re really excited about our new wellness initiative which supplements the strong culture of wellness at Queen’s. We now have a dedicated wellness half-day monthly for residents alongside our regular programming. The wellness committee features both residents and staff, and resident feedback is strongly considered in how the program is organized, which is a huge bonus. We also have dedicated academic advisors to provide guidance and mentorship throughout residency.

What is the surgical and subspecialty exposure like at Queen’s University?

PGY1 is off service. Throughout PGY2-5, we have access to both the wet-lab and our EyeSi surgical simulator. In PGY2-3, we complete modules on the simulator to prepare for surgical training. PGY3 includes exposure to oculoplastics and strabismus procedures with a good amount of procedure and OR time. PGY4-5 is dedicated to intraocular surgeries including cataracts as well as cornea and glaucoma procedures. We also have a community practice block in PGY5 and opportunities for both global and community health electives throughout residency. Subspecialty exposure at Queen’s is varied with a great mix in PGY2 and dedicated subspecialty blocks in PGY3-5.

University of Toronto

Next up was Dr. Yogesh Patodia, PGY4 Ophthalmology at the University of Toronto.

Why ophthalmology?

Ophthalmology is a great mix of clinic and surgery, and the surgeries are incredibly innovative. The lifestyle is an added bonus!

What is your number one tip for CaRMS?

Practice interview questions in the mirror. Also, be prepared to write your personal statement multiple times--it’s an iterative process, and it often takes many tries to get to where you want to be. If possible, try to review your personal statement and/or approach to interview questions with mentors.

Can you tell us a bit about the University of Toronto’s program size and strengths?

Toronto usually has 6 residents per year with 4 CMGs, 1 IMG, and 1 visa trainee. We are a high-volume centre with strong cataract numbers and subspecialty exposure. Our call shifts tend to be busy, but this also means there’s lots to learn! We are also one of the strongest research centres in Canada.

What are some of the initiatives available for wellness and peer support at the University of Toronto?

We have plenty of wellness and support programming available through post-graduate medical education (PGME). Within ophthalmology, we have a supportive staff and resident group.

What is the surgical and subspecialty exposure like at the University of Toronto?

PGY1 is off service. PGY2 offers exposure to every ophthalmology subspecialty, with dedicated verticals in PGY3-4. PGY3 marks the start of our surgical exposure with oculoplastics, glaucoma, and retina cases. We spend most of our time in PGY4-5 learning cataract surgery and spending time in subspecialty ORs. We don’t have a dedicated cataract surgery block; instead, it’s incorporated throughout our surgical training. We also have opportunities in global and community health via Orbis, the Northern Ontario Eye Van, and an elective in Costa Rica for senior residents.  

McMaster University

We then passed it off to Dr. Keean Nanji, PGY2 Ophthalmology at McMaster University.

Why ophthalmology?

Ophthalmology is really great; it has a mix of surgery and medicine with exciting research and innovation. What sets ophthalmology apart from many surgical specialties is that a significant component of care includes medical management. With so many recent therapies and surgical advances, it’s a very exciting time in the world of ophthalmology.

What is your number one tip for CaRMS?

Start early and have 2-3 people you trust to review your application honestly and critically. My recommendation is to be careful about having too many people review your application as it can be difficult to integrate many different perspectives. Once interviews roll around, be sure to practice, practice, practice!  

Can you tell us a bit about McMaster University’s program size and strengths?

McMaster usually has 1-2 residents per year. Strengths include the tight-knit and supportive resident group, high surgical volume, and lots of teaching. Hamilton is also the waterfall capital of the world and has a booming restaurant scene.

What are some of the initiatives available for wellness and peer support at McMaster University?

Our program has both a resident and staff wellness representative as well as a very supportive resident group and program director. We frequently organize events together that help shape the team environment. For instance, next week we have a resident vs staff soccer game. The culture is very supportive; staff and residents are very understanding and supportive of resident goals and needs.  

What is the surgical and subspecialty exposure like at McMaster University?

PGY1 is off service, although there is longitudinal ophthalmology teaching every Wednesday with a resident clinic in the morning and academic half-day in the afternoon to help develop and maintain skills. Half of PGY2 is spent in the emergency eye clinic and the other half consists of early clinic and surgical exposure to all subspecialties. PGY3-5 is spent in subspecialty blocks with progressively more involvement in clinics and ORs. There are also two dedicated 4-month cataract surgery blocks during PGY 4 and 5. There are no fellows in Hamilton, which means lots of first-hand clinical and surgical experiences. Resident opportunities include global health trips, community ophthalmology exposure, medical student teaching, and as much or as little research as you’re interested in.

Western University

Finally, we were joined by Dr. Gaya Sivakumar, PGY2 Ophthalmology at Western University.

Why ophthalmology?

Eyeballs are the best part of the human body! We also have interesting tools, large subspecialty variety, and great lifestyle.

What is your number one tip for CaRMS?

Spend time on your personal statement--it’s not uncommon to have to rewrite it multiple times--and review them with trusted individuals or mentors, both in and out of ophthalmology. Talk about your interests and let your personality shine! I would also recommend practising your interview skills so that you feel comfortable sharing your experiences authentically; remember, be humble, yet confident.

Can you tell us a bit about Western University’s program size and strengths?

Western typically has 2 residents per year. Our strengths include the cohesive resident group, strong faculty support, low learner-to-faculty ratio (there’s no fellows which translates to early surgical and procedural exposure), and diverse patient volume in the urgent eye clinic.

What are some of the initiatives available for wellness and peer support at Western University?

We have a supportive resident group and a program director who routinely checks in on us to see how we’re doing. We also have a wellness director and the Peers Wellbeing program available through Schulich.

What is the surgical and subspecialty exposure like at Western University?

PGY1 is off service, although we do have some ophthalmology rotations and it’s not uncommon to have some exposure to procedures such as laser retinopexy by the end of the year. PGY2 is mostly spent in the urgent eye clinic with high procedural volume including laser retinopexy, YAG capsulotomy, and peripheral iridotomy. PGY3-4 comprises exposure to community ophthalmology as well as cornea, glaucoma, pediatrics, retina, and oculoplastics. There are two OR days per week in PGY3 where residents will incrementally begin operating on cataract surgeries. PGY4-5 includes solo cataract surgeries and exposure to all subspecialty surgeries with focus on globe ruptures and strabismus surgeries.

We wrapped up our first evening of the CaRMS Ophthalmology Resident Panel Series with a question-and-answer period which will be featured in a subsequent blog post. Stay tuned!  

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