Dr Giuseppe Guarnaccia, director of ESASO: "We are expanding to Asia to train ophthalmologists from a continent in which more than half of the world’s blind live"

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The aim of the ESASO is to fill a gap in the post-graduate training of ophthalmologists in Europe. ESASO collaborates with leading ophthalmic institutions, including the IMO

Who was behind the idea for the school?

The idea came from a group of ophthalmologists, who, as well as being surgeons, were teachers. They included Dr Borja Corcóstegui, who chairs the Scientific Committee of ESASO, and myself.   Also involved in the founding of the school were Lugano City Council, the Swiss University, the Swiss Ophthalmological Society, Canton Ticino and private founders, who are all members of the School’s Board of Governors.

How is ophthalmology training structured at ESASO?

The training programme consists of five modules of one-week duration each, covering all ophthalmology specialities: retina, cornea and refractive surgery, glaucoma, oculoplastics, paediatrics and strabismus. At the end of the training, students have the opportunity to apply for a master’s programme at one of the School’s collaborating centres.

Which ophthalmology centres collaborate in these masters’ programmes?

For cataracts, cornea and refractive surgery, we have the support of the University of Barcelona. For retina, our students can choose to undertake a master’s course at IMO, the University Clinic of Vienna General Hospital or San Raffaele Hospital in Milan. Also for retina, we have the support of the Columbia University Medical Center in New York and the University Hospital of Antwerp.

What are ESASO’s requirements for entry onto a master’s or fellowship programme?

The student must have completed ESASO’s five modules and undertaken an interview before a selection committee chaired by Dr Corcóstegui from IMO and consisting of internationally renowned surgeons, such as Dr Leonidas Zografos, the medical director of Jules Gonin Eye Hospital in Lausanne; Dr Stanley Chang from Columbia University in New York; Dr Nicholas Evans from the Plymouth Royal Eye Infirmary; Dr Ursula Schmidt-Erfurth from the Medical University of Vienna; Dr Maurizio Battaglia from San Raffaele Hospital in Milan and myself as the director of ESASO.

What does it mean for students to be selected for the master’s programme?

As well as being an opportunity to learn at a leading ophthalmology centre, ESASO also funds the fellowship for a year.  ESASO has recently opened another campus in Singapore.

What was the reason for this expansion?

ESASO Asia was founded in 2010 to offer specialised training to ophthalmologists from a continent in which more than half of the world’s blind live. At that time, post-graduate training for ophthalmologists did not exist, and we thought it would be an opportunity to share our knowledge and expertise with professionals in the region. Singapore was chosen as the location for the campus because of its status as the "Switzerland" of Asia, its well-developed academic system, central location, good infrastructure and facilities, as well as social and political stability. In addition to its work on these two campuses, ESASO also offers training modules in other countries, doesn’t it? Yes, the last one we did was on oculoplastic surgery, coordinated by Dr Ramón Medel from IMO. The course, which was held at the University of Malta, was attended by 28 participants from 14 different countries. This year, we’re planning two training modules at the University of Ankara in collaboration with Dr Emin Ozmert.

Does ESASO participate in humanitarian work?

Yes, we participate in medical aid programmes in developing countries. For example, we collaborate with the Eyes of the World Foundation and we offer fellowships to ophthalmologists from disadvantaged countries to help them complete their training in the best centres in Europe.

What are the key factors that have enabled ESASO to become a centre of international prestige despite its short history?

ESASO has worked closely with a number of leading ophthalmic institutions, such as IMO, and has been supported by Europe’s major ophthalmological societies, including the European Society of Cataract & Refractive Surgeons (ESCRS), the European Society of Retina Specialists (EURETINA), the European Glaucoma Society (EGS) and the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO).   We have also begun the process of obtaining Bologna accreditation for our training programme.

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