Women in ophthalmology series: Dr Filomena Ribeiro on the importance of equity in education

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Filomena Ribeiro, MD, PhD, FEBO, discusses the crucial role of mentors – and where to find them

March is Women’s History Month, and the 8th of March is International Women’s Day. Throughout the next several weeks, Ophthalmology Times Europe is celebrating the impact of women in the industry with a series of video interviews showcasing female leaders.

To commence Women's History Month, we spoke with Filomena Ribeiro, MD, PhD, FEBO. Dr Ribeiro is the president of the European Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgeons and the head of ophthalmology at Hospital da Luz, Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr Ribeiro spoke about her own experiences with networking and mentorship, and emphasised the importance of continuous education to improve patient outcomes. Here’s her advice for ophthalmologists in any stage of their careers.

Editor’s note – this transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Hattie Hayes: Hello, I'm Hattie Hayes, editor of Ophthalmology times Europe. March is Women's History Month and gender equity is the topic of our March cover story. Throughout this month, I'll be speaking with women in the industry about their careers and sharing advice for new ophthalmologists.

Joining me today is Dr Filomena Ribeiro. Dr Ribeiro is based in Portugal and is the current president of the European Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgeons, Dr Ribeiro, thank you so much for joining me today. I'm thrilled to have you.

Filomena Ribeiro, MD, PhD, FEBO: It's really a pleasure, and thank you for having me.

HH: I know that one aspect of your ESCRS platform is all about elevating excellence in ophthalmology education. How does gender equity factor into that equation?

FR: Well, as ESCRS President, my goal is really to enhance ophthalmology education in an inclusive way. And gender equity is integral to this mission. And we have some reports showing that women have less access to surgical training in ophthalmology, so we need to ensure that the educational opportunities are accessible and supportive, for individuals of all genders.

HH: What are some ways that you see gender diversity benefiting your field and your colleagues?

FR: Well, gender diversity enriches our field: it brings together different viewpoints and approaches. Studies highlight the benefits of diverse teams in terms of creativity, problem solving, decision making processes...Everything that can help reach more productivity and also research quality. I think that gender diversity can lead to better patient care and outcomes.

HH: What's something you know now that you wish you had known earlier in your career?

FR: Looking back, I can recognize the value of networking and building professional relationships very early in a career. Connecting with mentors, peers, all some ways the industry can provide valuable guidance, support and great opportunities for growth. My reflection will be the value of networking.

HH: Now, what do you expect will be the biggest challenge for young ophthalmologists who are just entering the field – and also, what are the biggest opportunities for success?

FR: Well, one of the most significant challenges in the next few years may be around integrating artificial intelligence (AI) in our clinical practice. It's true that artificial intelligence can offer great potential to enhance the diagnostic accuracy and the workflows for clinics. But we need to– mastering [AI] requires some kind of adaptation, and also learning.

The truth is, this challenge can present exciting opportunities for growth and innovation, then help us to explore new frontiers in research and treatment modalities. We need to invest in continuous education. And this can be the key to unlocking the potential of this technology to shape the future and to improve, at the very end, the patient outcomes.

HH: Earlier you mentioned how important mentorship is and how important it is to have a strong, supportive network. Tell me about how mentorship has positively impacted you.

FR: I was lucky. I had undergone my ophthalmology training in a hospital...the ophthalmology service at the Hospital Santo António dos Capuchos, in Lisbon, Portugal. And this hospital has a great reputation for excellence, but [was] also coupled with a very, very strong commitment to inclusivity and mentorship. And after this, my initial rotation, I started my career in another hospital, Hospital Fernando Fonseca.

The sense of belonging was really a nuclear, promoted value. And I think that these together, these environments provided me with some learning opportunities and huge, strong personal and professional support.

HH: What advice would you give to young professionals, especially women, who are looking for mentorship in ophthalmology?

FR: Well to young ophthalmologists, and especially for women, searching for mentors, I could suggest to join professional organizations, like ESCRS, for instance. And attend networking events. In ESCRS, we've started, in Frankfurt, new initiatives to promote the networking. And I think that these platforms can provide, really, opportunities to connect with potential mentors, and these relationships can offer valuable insight and advice to develop the career.

HH: Well, I hope anyone watching takes advantage of those opportunities and finds a mentor for themselves. And thank you so much for coming and sharing advice, with me and with all of our viewers. I really appreciate it.

FR: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me.

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