In 2015, Kellogg faculty partnered with the St. Paul Hospital Millennium Medical Center (SPHMMC) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to establish an ophthalmologic residency program. This year, the first group of six trainees graduated from the four-year program.
Christine Nelson, M.D., chief of oculoplastic surgery and a co-director of the Kellogg International Center of Ophthalmology, leads the initiative. “We’re so proud of the inaugural class,” she says. “Their board examination scores contributed to Ethiopia posting the highest scores in the specialty of any country on the African continent.”
Several other Michigan Medicine specialties have launched training programs with SPHMMC, and many Kellogg specialists have traveled to St. Paul’s to mentor faculty and residents.
“The goal is to build capacity and counter the ‘brain drain’ that happens in under-served regions when physicians pursue specialty training out of country and never return,” says Dr. Nelson. All six new ophthalmologists have secured positions practicing in Ethiopia.
The curriculum includes a foundation in research fundamentals. The class of 2019 conducted two studies in collaboration with visiting U-M third-year medical student Curtis Heisel. The first was an assessment of patient awareness of glaucoma to guide future public education initiatives. The second gathered standard eye measurements (how deep, close together or far apart eyes are set, how much eyelids droop, etc.) from area residents. The resulting dataset is the first of its kind in Ethiopia, where eye characteristics vary across the country’s more than 80 distinct ethnicities.
As the resident education program continues, additional Kellogg SPHMMC research and training projects will begin in 2020. Dr. Nelson will lead an initiative to perform 1,000 pediatric eye screenings, using a mobile app developed by Kellogg professor Hakan Demirci, M.D., to help identify symptoms of 135 eye disorders. A new, two-year ophthalmology medical assistant training program will welcome its first 10 students, filling an urgent need for skilled support staff. This enables physicians and nurses to practice at their level of training and creates job opportunities in a country challenged by high unemployment.