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Barry Fellowship Opens Up ‘Whole New Field of Thought’

The 2022 recipient combines theoretical and practical to learn new treatments.

Barry Fellowship Opens Up ‘Whole New Field of Thought’
Stuart Hales
Stuart Hales
Published: Wednesday, May 1, 2024
“ The people who benefit most from it are doctors who are not purely scientists and not purely clinicians. “

 

Jascha Wendelstein (at right) with Dr Theo G Seiler MD, FEBO, and Prof Maya Müller MD.

 

As Jascha Wendelstein saw it, the path linking scientific knowledge of intraocular lenses and refractive surgery with hands-on experience performing laser vision correction ran through Zurich, Switzerland, and the Institute for Refractive and Ophthalmic Surgery (IROC). The question was how to afford the journey.

“I knew that Switzerland is pretty expensive,” he said. “I needed a scenario where I had some patients of my own but also had time to pick up on all the ideas that went into evolving laser vision correction.”

Dr Wendelstein decided to apply for the Peter Barry Fellowship, a one-year grant that allows a trainee to work abroad at a centre of excellence for clinical experience or research in the field of cataract and refractive surgery, anywhere in the world. Sponsored by ESCRS, the fellowship is offered to a European trainee ophthalmologist who is no older than 40 years of age on the closing date for applications and has been an ESCRS trainee member for at least three years at the time of starting the fellowship.

Dr Wendelstein applied for the fellowship early in 2022 and began his fellowship later that year, finishing in August 2023. Looking back at his experience, he feels the fellowship is ideal for someone who wants to bridge the gap between the theoretical and the practical.

“I think the people who benefit most from it are doctors who are not purely scientists and not purely clinicians but want to combine an interest in both fields,” he said. “The fellowship gives you the opportunity to do both because the money gives you some free time from the clinical duties you would have to do if you were hired full time.”

‘Experience the full scenario’

The Barry Fellowship is named for Peter Barry, who served as president of ESCRS in 2012–2013 and was head of the Department of Ophthalmology at St Vincent’s University Hospital in Dublin and senior retinal surgeon at the Royal Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital (also in Dublin). The fellowship was launched in 2016 and first awarded in 2017 in the amount of €50,000. It is now awarded for €60,000.

The fellowship appealed to Dr Wendelstein because he realized there was a gap in his education and training he needed to fill. While he wasn’t familiar with Peter Barry’s legacy, he knew how the grant could benefit his career.

“I was very interested in intraocular lenses and refractive surgery, but I had no laser in my Austrian university clinic,” he said. “And I wanted a full understanding of the anterior segment. I think refractive surgery, lens surgery, and corneal surgery are a triplet that cannot really be divided. If you only understand one or two of the three, you will not experience the full scenario. That’s where IROC fit in.”

The particular draw of IROC was Dr Theo W Seiler, who specializes in laser vision correction, corneal surgery, keratoconus and CXL and cataract surgery, and corneal transplantation.

“If you are interested in laser vision correction, refractive surgery, and corneal surgery, you will stumble upon his name,” Dr Wendelstein said. “He invented cross-linking. He invented laser vision correction, or at least was among the pioneers to do so. So I had the idea that I wanted a chance to be able to work with him before he retired.”

Working with Dr Seiler and his son, who also practices at IROC, not only taught Dr Wendelstein how to use a laser but also provided him with insights into how to interpret certain situations and rethink traditional practices and treatments.

“I think I have some new schemes for treating various diseases that lead to irregular astigmatism and all the things that deteriorate your optical quality,” he said. “So many processes I saw as purely refractive or purely therapeutic came together, like combining IOL surgery with laser vision correction and making use of ablation depth and target refraction. It really opened up a whole new field of thought for me.”

Solving scientific problems

With his fellowship year behind him—and new opportunities to explore—Dr Wendelstein has some advice to share with young ophthalmologists considering applying for the Peter Barry Fellowship.

“Ponder the choice of your clinic and see if it supplies what you need,” he said. “Also, I think you will get the most from it if you figure some new problems out of a project you need to solve. So make use of the spare time you get and look into some scientific projects.”

Dr Wendelstein also has something to say to ESCRS, which sponsors the fellowship.

“One thing I would really love to say is a big thank you to the issuers for making this possible and for not only choosing me but having the whole programme available, not only for me but for others,” he said. “It’s a very nice opportunity, and it’s a good amount of money to really make something work.”

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