2020 Gillingham Pan-American Fellowship Experience:
Paulina Liberman MD
23 March 2021
My name is Paulina Liberman. I completed medical school and an ophthalmology residency in Chile. I am an adjunct instructor at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile ophthalmology department, where I am Chief of the Uveitis Unit. I also work at the Hospital Dr. Sótero del Río: the most extensive public Hospital in the country.
In between 2019 and 2020, I completed a Uveitis Fellowship at the Ocular Immunology Department of the Wilmer Eye Institute / Johns Hopkins University, under Dr. Jennifer E. Thorne’s mentorship.
Initially, I had met the uveitis team at the Wilmer Eye in 2018, in the context of an International Council of Ophthalmology three-month observership. This initial experience was an eye-opener in the world of uveitis diagnosis and management. At the time, I also had the chance to observe Dr. Fernando Arevalo in the OR, and learn from him about the surgical aspect of managing inflammatory eye disease.
During that experience, I realized that a deep understanding of pathophysiology and exposure to a wide variety of patient presentations is needed to manage uveitis well, which is why I applied to a formal fellowship the following year. The continuous support of the PAAO has been invaluable to this end.
During my fellowship, I had the chance to learn from Dr. Douglas A. Jabs, to whom I owe the systematic approach that I use with all my uveitis patients. Also, I was lucky to be able to participate in research projects with Dr. Bryn M. Burkholder, Dr. Meghan K. Berkenstock, Dr. Amde S. Shifera, and Dr. Benjamin C. Chaon, along with my mentor Dr. Thorne. Some of the work has already been published, and some of it is still in the works. There is a colossal difference in between the resources for research that were available at the Wilmer Eye and the ones I had been previously exposed to. I had the chance to live through how well-designed multicentric studies are completed in real life.
As part of my Fellowship, I had the opportunity to interact with the residents, who were extremely smart and hard-working. Having such a bright group of residents pushed me to keep studying and trying to be better myself to teach them adequately.
The experience with patients was exceedingly better than I expected. Communication with patients was fluid and easy. At the end of my fellowship, I was sad to say goodbye to some of them. As it is common to see uveitis patients monthly, I had gotten to know some of them well.
I cannot leave out of this report that in December 2019, everything started to change due to COVID 19. In January, COVID-associated clinic restrictions began to take place. We were concerned as the method of transmission was not clear, but uveitis patients are not elective. I stand proud to say that the uveitis service did not close for even one day. The uveitis service remained open for the full duration of my fellowship, with the full administrative staff, technicians, doctors, and personnel at their posts. However, things did change: we triaged patients to avoid exposure of stable patients; we made the clinic schedules different, so patients were scheduled with more extended time slots; all clinic facilities were modified to make them safer for patients and us. Up until the last day of my fellowship, nobody from the clinic had been infected.
I encourage young ophthalmologists to apply to the Gillingham fellowship. It is an amazing opportunity, and training in the US is a life-changing experience. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Stay safe. Stay healthy. And thank you to the Pan-American Ophthalmological Foundation and the Retina Research Foundation.
Dr. Marina Roizenblatt -from Brazil- and me, enjoying a small break from surgery with Dr. Arevalo.
The uveitis departament Faculty and Fellows enjoying a Holiday Party at the residence of Dr. Jabs. From left to right: Dr. Chaon, Dr. Burkholder, Dr. Mopuru, Dr. Liberman, Dr. Jabs, Dr. Thorne, Dr. Berkenstock.
COVID measures in clinic. We are demonstrating social distancing and wearing our protective gear for the first time. We all did our best to keep patients and ourselves safe. In the first row left to right: Brandi, Terry and Dr. Liberman. In the back: Dr. Chaon
I had the honor of receiving the Fellow Teaching Award, in recognition for extraordinary effort in teaching the resident staff. In all honesty, the residents were extraordinarily talented, and it was my honor to learn along them. From left to right: Dr. Johnson, Dr. Liberman, Dr. Gonzales, Dr. Ahmed.
Here exploring the beautiful landscapes of Maryland with my husband, Nicky, and our dog, Latke.
On my last day of fellowship I had so many things to be grateful for. One of them was the support and friendship of all the staff. Here with Pat, the Clinic Manager, and Amanda, admin.