PAAO Curso de Liderazgo: An experience that impacts your whole life!

20 September 2020

It has already been nine years since a very nice group of colleagues from around the world and I met in San Francisco for one of the most interesting and wonderful experiences of my life. Believe me, I am not exaggerating when I say it was amazing.

First, it allowed me to meet a select group of colleagues from different ophthalmology specialties, countries, and interests, whom I would not have had the opportunity to meet if it was not because of the Curso.

I remember I had great expectations on the Curso from information that I had from previous Colombian Curso de Liderazgo graduates, like Dr. Fernando Gomez Goyeneche, my professor and mentor. But I must confess those four days surpassed my expectations. There was very carefully chosen academic content to give tools for those who have accepted the responsibility of a leadership position in national or trans-national societies. There was also content for those of us who are teachers and who have the responsibility to lead our pupils, who tomorrow will be our colleagues and even our own ophthalmologists. They will make decisions upon their patients and upon us, so we have to be very careful in what we teach them to be.

The environment of the Curso and my classmates from other parts of the Americas were also very interesting and important elements for this new knowledge and life experience during those four days.

Do not hesitate to open your mind and dive into the PAAO Curso de Liderazgo.

I can clearly remember parts of Zelia Correa’s welcome speech. Dr. Zelia Correa, an important ophthalmologist and oncology subspecialist, is responsible for having initiated the leadership development course for PAAO. She is one of the most inspiring women I have ever met in my life!!!! Not only because of her very impressive ophthalmology background but for what she gives all of us during the Curso and her leadership in the academic area and the advocacy topics.

During the opening, Zelia mentioned two things I will always remember: the first one, that after that weekend, we would see our lives differently. The second, that we should look very well at those who were there because, in one way or another, we would be working with them from then on. And she was right with both statements, although it was the first time I had seen most of my classmates.

After that weekend, I discovered I had received many messages that had changed my way of thinking. I strengthened many concepts that intuitively I had, but more than that, I could count on some new good friends, whom I would love to work with. During these nine years, I have had the opportunity to work or count on their help in many ways.

During that weekend we had conferences about different topics:

  • What does leadership really mean?
  • How to make your message go through
  • How to build good relationships between doctors and administrative teams
  • Communication and relationship with the media
  • Challenges in education
  • Advocacy
  • Ethics committee in the American Academy of Ophthalmology
  • Effective negotiation strategies
  • Effective presentations

And others…

I discovered I had received many messages that had changed my way of thinking.

Some of the ideas I liked the most were:

  • A leader has to be able to identify what he or she has to improve for the other people, every day.
  • Vocation is not a career or a profession, it is where your passion meets the needs of the world.
  • A leader must empower people around, to make them successful in what they do.
  • Teamwork with the administrative staff is key. The administrative staff is usually comprised of people who have abilities that may be very different from those that we develop as physicians. It is important to value them and look for their support. We may have to delegate some duties that, we, as physicians, might not even know how to do or execute adequately.
  • It is healthy to cultivate mutual respect with the administrative staff.
  • A very important part of being a manager, a director, or a boss, is to walk around the hospital or clinic where you work, greet the people, ask them how they feel, which are their interests, how are their families, and learn what is happening “outside the office”. In this way, managers can find out directly what is happening with the projects and duties of every member of the team and have a real idea of what is going on.
  • Sometimes leaders can make wrong decisions. The important thing is to learn from those mistakes, to make things better. As a matter of fact, it is much better if leaders search to be surrounded by people who learn from their own mistakes.
  • Leaders should train in leading positions in order to learn how to be leaders, just like you train before you are going to run a marathon.

Every Curso participant has to have a project on which you have to work after finishing the four days of training. My project was the Recertification Process for the Colombian Ophthalmology Society. I am very proud to say that, after working for at least six years coordinating the Recertification Committee, four years ago, I could hand my work to a younger leader who is working to maintain this important project for our society.

The Curso de Liderazgo gave me tools for working in some other positions in our Ophthalmology community. During these nine years I have served as Chief of Medical Education at Fundación Oftalmológica Nacional in Bogotá, Secretary of the Board of the Colombian Ophthalmology Society, Vice-President of GlaucomaColombia, our sub-specialty society and worked as Co-chair of the Young Ophthalmologists Committee for the PAAO. Nowadays, I belong to the PAAO YO Executive Committee and at the same time, I am serving as President of GlaucomaColombia. I have never stopped teaching ophthalmology during all this time. I find it very gratifying because I learn very much from my residents and fellow professors.

But I must confess those four days surpassed my expectations.

Now, if you ask me which is the position that I am more proud of, I can gladly say it is to be a mom of two brave teenagers who have been working hard from home school during this difficult period of the COVID-19 pandemic and have taught me about adaptation and resilience. The Curso de Liderazgo has had an impact on my own home and family relationships. It has helped me value what teamwork in leadership with my husband can make you achieve with your family. Sergio, my husband, is the general manager of his own company. Understanding the differences between administrative and medical points of view for work and more important, for life facts, has allowed us to grow as a couple.

So, if you have the opportunity to be nominated for this experience, do not hesitate to open your mind and dive into the PAAO Curso de Liderazgo. Thank you Zelia for being the creator and heart of it. Thank you PAAO for supporting this project.


Sandra Belalcázar-Rey, MD
PAAO Curso de Liderazgo 2010-2011

Sandra Belalcázar-Rey, MD
PAAO Curso de Liderazgo 2010-2011