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    Bascom Palmer takes top honors for 3rd year

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    Best research program

    Although Bascom Palmer Eye Institute might have garnered the No. 1 positions in three areas of the survey, when it comes to research, Wilmer Eye Institute has maintained its ranking at the top all 15 years. That is not surprising, given the institution's longstanding dedication to research and a great deal of funding by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

    "We don't have full-time clinicians," Dr. McDonnell explained. "Everyone is supposed to be discovering new things."

    A new building, dedicated last year, features five new floors for research by faculty working in such areas as biomedical engineering, nanotechnology, tissue regeneration, oculoplastic surgery, and a cross-linking treatment for keratoconus.

    Jennifer H. Elisseeff, PhD, for example, holds Wilmer Eye Institute's first Jules and Doris Stein Research to Prevent Blindness professorship and is working under a 5-year, $650,000 grant to develop a regenerated cornea, using collagen-based synthetic materials. Her work, in collaboration with Oliver Schein, MD, also has resulted in part of a $7 million grant from the Department of Defense to develop a battlefield adhesive for soldiers with ocular injuries who cannot get immediate treatment, Dr. McDonnell said.

    Meanwhile, Albert S. Jun, MD, an associate professor of ophthalmology, is studying the hereditary nature of Fuchs' dystrophy by injecting mice with the gene that causes the corneal disease to test treatments.

    "It's an exciting time in ophthalmology," he said.

    After relinquishing the No. 2 spot to Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in 2009, Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary (MEEI), Harvard University, Boston, has placed third on the survey for the amount and quality of its research.


    Dr. Miller
    Joan W. Miller, MD, the chief and chairwoman of MEEI's department of ophthalmology, said that observers often misinterpret the institution's research commitment because of the divided nature of Harvard Medical School's ophthalmology department. For example, research is performed throughout the school's network of 17 hospitals and affiliates, which include Schepens Eye Research Institute, and each affiliate pursues NIH funding separately.

    That lack of recognition doesn't diminish the importance of the work that is under way throughout the department, she said.


    Figure 3
    "People know we excel in research and that we have excellent clinicians, as well as working to innovate in the education of residents and fellows," said Dr. Miller, the Henry Willard Williams Professor of Ophthalmology. "We are certainly very confident in the extraordinary care, training, and research that go on here."

    Some of that research turned inward over the past year, as the department worked to analyze its outcomes, which were published in book form earlier this year. That work has helped patients to decide where they should go for treatment, satisfied regulators and payors, and created new "to do" lists for each area of the department. A Harvard-wide department report that will look outside MEEI to include the other hospitals and Schepens is due out this fall.

    "Those kinds of self-evaluations and continuing quality improvement really drive a program to be better," Dr. Miller said.

    With those data in hand, the school can develop stronger marketing tools to spread the word to patients, fellow ophthalmologists, and philanthropists.

    "We haven't been good at tooting our horn," she said.

    Three departments on last year's list moved up one spot in the research rankings: Wills Eye Institute, Doheny Eye Institute at the University of Southern California, and Washington University in St. Louis. Dr. Haller noted that Wills, which ranked seventh this year, has increased its research efforts.

    "We think with the restructuring we're doing in clinical research and translational collaboration with basic scientists at Thomas Jefferson University, there is a lot of potential in [our research] area," Dr. Haller said.

    Best residency training

    Bascom Palmer Eye Institute again claims the top ranking for best training of its residents, which Dr. Alfonso sees as one more way the institution is helping treat patients. The program accepts seven new residents each year, and educates a total of 25 fellows. Residents may take an elective 7-week rotation in which they may do international travel or research, which often leads to presentations at national meetings and publications in peer-reviewed literature.

    The department holds Grand Rounds every Thursday, when virtually every faculty member, resident, and fellow gathers for 90 minutes to hear presentations of unique cases. Didactic lectures are presented the other mornings to build knowledge in each subspecialty area.

    Residents also have an opportunity to perform community service through Bascom Palmer Eye Institute's Vision Van, which makes stops throughout south Florida to provide free eye-care screenings and donated eyeglasses to those who can least afford it.

    This year, Wilmer Eye Institute moved up one spot to claim the No. 2 position from Wills Eye Institute, which moved to No. 3. With more than 500 applicants vying for seven residency positions each year, every candidate interviewed for a Wilmer Eye Institute residency is among the top 1% of medical students. Residents are encouraged to become leaders within ophthalmology, and the department takes great pride in the 102 former residents who have gone on to become academic chairpersons throughout the world.

    Despite a predicted shortage in the number of ophthalmologists who will be needed to treat patients in the United States, Wilmer Eye Institute is dedicated to preserving its intimate experience for residents.

    "Our intention here is probably not to grow our residency," Dr. McDonnell said. "We want to have a small number of residents whom we focus all our efforts on, that everyone at Wilmer Eye Institute knows very well on a first-name basis, that we view as our gift to the world."

    Residents get a high-volume surgical experience. In this year's class, a majority is planning to apply for fellowship training in oculoplastics after enjoying their experience with the institute's five oculoplastic surgery specialists.

    "I believe that this is a particularly dynamic group of faculty at Wilmer Eye Institute in oculoplastics, and the young residents really are excited," Dr. McDonnell said.

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