By Troy Patterson

The next generation of eyecare professionals inspires veteran ophthalmologist Dr. Sherif El-Defrawy.

The professor and chair of the Department of Ophthalmology and Vision Sciences at the University of Toronto says witnessing the level of idealism and dedication to helping patients from today’s young students is one of the drivers of his passion to teach.

On top of that, El-Defrawy says students grasp an understanding of computers and Internet technology that will no doubt offer an increased benefit to the field of eye care.

“And that’s just paving the way for the future, where we’ll be seeing an interaction between physician and artificial intelligence to enhance the way we diagnose, the way we treat patients and increase efficiencies as we use technology to be able to help us in doing all those things,” he says.

“There is an understanding that biomedical links are going to be bigger and bigger in the future. There is a combination between our technology, our computers, and all other aspects and medicine to be able to treat diseases in new ways.”

El-Defrawy, who is also Ophthalmologist-in-Chief at Kensington Eye Institute and past president of the Canadian Ophthalmological Society, says today’s students are positive – and remain passionate about medicine – despite modern-day adversity where those in the industry know vacancies will need to be filled as Baby Boomers age, but are currently up against a lack of work as surgeons.

“It used to be guaranteed that once you’d finished your training that you’d have a job; if you’re a surgeon you’d have surgical time at a hospital and move forward with your career,” he says.

“Now we have a situation where we have underemployed surgeons or unemployed surgeons because there are no available OR spots and that creates a tremendous stress for these young doctors, especially if they’ve committed the last 15 years of their lives since high school to education and now find themselves in a position where they don’t have a job.”

In terms of maintaining a strong, experienced and varied workforce, El-Defrawy says Canada needs to start looking at its workforce carefully in order to manage the inflow of family doctors and specialists to better match the numbers needed across the country with the numbers retiring.

The number of Baby Boomers, he says, is hitting a point where they apply significant pressure on medical services.

“We’re calculating we’re likely going to double the number of surgeries at least and double the number of office visits needed over the next 20 years to be able to deal with this,” says El-Defrawy. “And we all recognize this, but there are no resources in the current system to deal with this, so how do we increase our physician force to deal with this population that we know will need it? We need to look at novel solutions in Canadian healthcare, efficiencies and different ways of doing things.”

El-Defrawy says a positive sign is those in eye care sector are recognizing the focus on vision care teams, made up of ophthalmologists, optometrists, opticians, orthoptists, opthalmic medical technicians and technologists, that need to be better pushed forward to work together efficiently to provide optimal care for the patient and look at the long-term health care goals.