European Society of Ophthalmology: the first 50 years

Since its inception in 1956, the European Society of Ophthalmology (SOE) has grown from a small entity into a conglomerate of national ophthalmological societies from all 40 European countries, representing more than 40,000 European ophthalmologists. We speak with President Zdenek Gregor about the changing face of the society, the importance of collaboration and the way the society has adapted to an ever-evolving Europe.

SOE has worked with many European and International societies to pool resources and provide European ophthalmologists with a broad spectrum of educational programmes. For example, the society actively supports annual courses run by the Association of the European University Professors of Ophthalmology (EUPO); educational events that take place during SOE congresses and are supported by the society during the years in between congresses.

Congressional evolution

"Although SOE 2005 was a very successful scientific meeting, it marked a previously agreed change in the organization of SOE congresses from then on. Starting in 2007, SOE congresses will be organized entirely by the SOE Council and its Committees, though still relying on the local Ophthalmological Society for the local knowledge and collegiate collaboration," says Gregor.

SOE 2007 will be held in Vienna on 9–12 June 2007, in collaboration with the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) and the Austrian Ophthalmological Society (OOG). "Our meetings reflect the multinational nature of Europe, which has more than 36 official languages, but the entire programme of the SOE congress is in English. That ensures that the scientific as well as the social programmes are accessible to every delegate," he added.

Today, there is an increasing tendency among European ophthalmologists to sub-specialize. SOE has responded to this trend by inviting all the major sub-specialty societies to take active part in the preparation of the scientific programme of its congresses. "There are advantages in this approach for everyone and, in particular, the congress delegates benefit from the teaching and personal contact with the leaders in each branch of ophthalmology. The response from all the sub-specialty societies has been overwhelmingly positive and we look forward to their ever-greater involvement in the future," says Gregor.

Research is key to the development of any industry and several societies exist across Europe which encourage research, innovation and the dissemination of knowledge amongst those with an interest in ophthalmic research. Gregor respects such societies, "from the educational activities organized by the European Association for Vision and Eye Research (EVER), to the training and examinations of young ophthalmologists and the work performed by the European Board of Ophthalmologists (EBO) as well as tackling wider political issues, which are the remit of the European Union of Medical Specialists (UEMS), I appreciate the willingness of the leaders of these bodies to collaborate with us in our quest to establish a centre of ophthalmology in Europe."

In support and recognition of the great importance of research and development in ophthalmology, SOE has increased its level of collaboration with these bodies over the years. Testament to this is the Joint Symposia held during the 2005 meeting and all future SOE congresses.

"We must also remember the importance of Industry and its contribution to our endeavours," urges Gregor. Recognizing the Industry support of clinical research, education and the importance of technical exhibitions at congresses, SOE liaises with the leaders of all major companies at regular business meetings of the SOE Industry Advisory Board; the society's platform for exchanging views and maintaining financial transparency.

Bridging the gap between East and West

The way of the world dictates that some countries get more than others. Naturally, the same is true for ophthalmologists - the extent of resources for education and clinical practice at the ophthalmologist's disposal largely depends on country of residence. This rule certainly applies to the Eastern European countries, which have been disadvantaged by political and economic influences in the past and are still trying to make their mark in European ophthalmology.