Expanding the Bay Area Ophthalmology Course

Pictured (L to R): Chi Pham, MS, Abed Baiad, Miguel Hernández-Delgado, MD, and Lorena Torres Acosta, MD were attendees at this year’s BAOC program.

SINCE 1970, the Bay Area Ophthalmology Course (BAOC) has been offered by the Bay Area Ophthalmology Consortium and Stanford University School of Medicine as a premier, intensive education in all things eye- and vision-related. Initially a resource for ophthalmology residents’ education, it has morphed in recent years into a comprehensive program for ophthalmologists, residents and medical students, and now many others in the medical and vision research communities who seek intensive instruction in the fundamental sciences underlying ophthalmic practice and research. Topics bridge ophthalmic pathology, optics, epidemiology, genetics, immunology, pharmacology, and other areas of science and innovation, and span ophthalmologic areas including orbit and oculoplastics, neuro-ophthalmology, corneal and refractive surgery, cataract surgery, glaucoma, pediatric ophthalmology and strabismus, and retinal disease.

About six years ago, faculty at Stanford began to investigate how the program could reach a broader audience. Under program directors Steven Sanislo, MD, clinical professor of ophthalmology, and Wen-Shin Lee, MD, clinical assistant professor of ophthalmology, the BAOC broadened its curriculum, for example adding hands-on experience through laboratory sessions and surgical training offered in pathology, optics, phacoemulsification, and glaucoma. “We also realized our curriculum would be valuable not just for ophthalmologists in training or in practice, but also for undergraduate students, medical students, vision scientists in academia or industry, as well as physicians in related fields such as neurology,” Lee said.

After holding BAOC entirely virtual over the past two years due to the pandemic, 2022 was the first year BAOC was offered both in-person and virtually. In-person attendees traveled from around the nation and the world.

Committed to ensuring that the field of ophthalmology and vision research is representative of the diverse population of patients, BAOC also expanded to offer diversity scholarships.

“Ophthalmology is an early match, so often students learn about their subspeciality later in their training or not at all,” Bettina Canuto-Len, MAOB, BAOC program manager said. “As such, we invite undergraduate students from diverse backgrounds—broadly defined to include participants who are underrepresented in medicine, first generation higher-education students and professionals, LGBTQ+, and people with disabilities—to apply to the BAOC course.” Canuto-Len serves alongside Brianna Bennett, BAOC program manager, in running the course.

David Guyton, MD, teaching BAOC students in an optics lab teaching session.

The vital role of diversity in medicine

By offering diversity scholarships, attendees like Chi Pham, MS, were able to attend. Pham, a second-year medical student at Touro University in Vallejo, California, immigrated to the U.S. from Vietnam. She attended BAOC in hopes of exploring the ophthalmology field, which she plans to specialize in for residency. Pham said that diversity in medicine starts with valuing everyone's culture and connecting with people’s shared experiences.

“As a Vietnamese immigrant, my journey to medical school was not a straightforward path. Through my experiences and struggles, I am inspired to assist those patients facing obstacles when accessing the healthcare system,” Pham said.

Abed Baiad, a second-year medical student at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, also attended this summer. Baiad, who grew up in Syria, interned at Stanford two years ago doing basic science research for the Department of Biochemistry. At the time of the internship, Baiad was not a Canadian citizen, and with a national travel ban in place, it caused complications in getting to Stanford.

 “Now that I’m a Canadian citizen, traveling to BAOC was significantly easier,” Baiad said. “This gave me perspective, as some patients are born into locations with limited travel or resources. As physicians, we see patients of diverse backgrounds and I am grateful that BAOC is a strong supporter of diversity in medicine.”

Lorena Torres Acosta, MD, a second-year ophthalmology resident at the Instituto Nacional de Oftalmologia Francisco Contreras Campos in Lima, Peru, was excited to finally attend BAOC this year for the first time, as her institution sends one second-year resident to attend annually. Torres Acosta’s favorite part of BAOC was innovation day and getting to meet attendees from all over the world. “It was exciting to learn about innovation advancements alongside a diverse attendee group,” Torres Acosta said. “Diversity is important in medicine because it helps healthcare providers to have adequate communication skills, identify health beliefs, and understand barriers in healthcare access.”


Leaving a legacy

Another BAOC attendee was Miguel Ángel Hernández-Delgado, MD, from Mexico City, who identified himself as a “BAOC legacy” —his mother is a practicing ophthalmologist and attended BAOC in 1997. Since his mother recommended BAOC to him, they have enjoyed discussing how the course has evolved since she attended.

“I am proud to be carrying on a family tradition, because not only am I the second in my family to attend BAOC, but I will also be a third-generation ophthalmologist, as my grandfather is an ophthalmologist too,” Hernández-Delgado said.

“I especially enjoyed attending the glaucoma session because that disease is very prevalent in Mexico,” Hernández-Delgado said. “I am excited to learn from prestigious doctors and transfer the skills I learned to help my patients back home.”

While faculty and staff put in many hours of planning to run the event that totals 23 days of lectures and 11 laboratory sessions, they also feel like they receive positive impact from the program.

“I love getting to meet people from all over the world and hear about their unique backgrounds and experiences, their passions, and what brought them to this course,” Bennett said. “It is rewarding to see how eager our attendees are to show up to each session.”


Kathryn Sill is the former web and communications specialist for the Byers Eye Institute in the Department of Ophthalmology, at Stanford University School of Medicine.