It’s a new year and that means it is time to submit rank lists for the ophthalmology residency match. Last year more than 700 medical students and young physicians applied for one of the 467 ophthalmology residency positions nationwide. Those who match will spend 3 years in an ophthalmology residency after completing a 1-year internship. Many will go on to pursue fellowship training in a subspecialty and then they’ll enter the workforce. What are these millennial applicants like? What will our specialty be like when the ophthalmology torch is passed to their hands?
Going through hundreds of applicants is an arduous task, but well worth the effort in selecting the 60 applicants that we interviewed for residency at the UCLA Jules Stein Eye Institute. We received applications from nearly every medical school in the country and many from outside the US as well. The applicants came from many different types of backgrounds, many with an additional degree outside of medicine such as a PhD, MBA, JD, MPH, MS, MA, and more. Many have already conducted research and published papers in ophthalmic journals. Others focused their time on the clinical experience. But all applicants have one thing in common: a strong desire to learn the art and science of ophthalmology.
These applicants are academically stronger than ever because both getting into medical school and matching in ophthalmology are more difficult than before. The current acceptance rate is just 40%, down from the 70% when I applied more than 20 years ago. It’s fortunate that new doctors are so smart because they have just 3 years of residency to learn so much: they must master everything that I did 20 years ago plus learn all of the new advances and technologies that didn’t exist before, and they must do it in the same 3 years.
While it’s not fair to paint all current applicants with the millennial brush, it does seem that they have a different perspective than my generation or the one ahead of me. These new doctors value a work-life balance and spending time with family and friends, and that’s something that I admire. The mantra of “work hard and play hard” seems to apply, and it makes for residents who are happy, productive, and enthusiastic.
The new doctors are particularly adept at picking up new technologies and techniques. As we move towards a more computerized ophthalmic examination, these doctors are able to intuitively understand the graphical interfaces. In the operating room, the years that these young doctors spent playing video games seems to have paid off—they are skilled and dexterous with quick reflexes. I have no doubt that 25 years from now, when I’m ready for my own cataract surgeries, one of these young doctors will do a beautiful job for me.
With fewer than 500 newly minted ophthalmologists starting practice every year, there could be a future shortage given the number who retire per year. In addition, the number of senior citizens is growing and that is driving an even greater need for eye care. These new ophthalmologists will indeed work very hard. But they’ll also enjoy a balanced life and a happy home with family and friends.