Prato, September 23, 2012

Today is Sunday.

Finally, a day of rest from a busy week’s work schedule.
We had a wonderful lunch and the children are outside playing and enjoying the mild Mediterranean afternoon weather.
From my drawing room’s window I can enjoy the elegant silhouette of Santa Croce’s belfry through a kaleidoscope of reds and yellows as trees don their autumn apparel.
Everything would be fine, had I not picked up the paper.
The usual depressing news: the economy is in a downturn, a Depression is looming, people are losing their jobs, social unrest is spreading.
Everyone is worried.
Everyone, from the Man on the street to the many ophthalmologists I have met at meetings across Europe this Fall.
The conversation more and more often shifts away from scientific topics and heads towards more practical issues such as the future of our health care systems and even the very destiny of our profession.
What will the Future bring?
My crystal ball is momentarily out of service, so I know no more about the Future than the average “Joe”  but there are a few thoughts I would like to share with you.
Sharing thoughts
As people, we must focus on the aspects of our lives that we prize most: generally, that would be our loved ones and our profession.
As physicians we must focus on providing the best patient care available at present, leaving out all the surrounding noise.
In all probability, fulfilling this mandate will help us to sleep well at night and it will also allow us to provide our loved ones with a fairly good quality of life.
However, keeping this commitment is no easy task, especially for younger ophthalmologists, because there are many obstacles present on one’s path.
Some are there accidentally as a result of more general situations, such as the Economy, others are placed there intentionally by those who have an interest in guiding physicians’ thinking.
This is why, today more than ever, reference points are important.
To me, EVRS is one such reference.
About EVRS
It is no mystery that I have always been a firm EVRS believer. Why else would I devote so much energy to the Society? There are no privileges in serving on the Board. We pay our subscription like every other Member. We pay our congress fees, travel and accommodations like everyone else. What we do get is a couple of free meals with the Board meetings and, honestly, despite the difficult economic situation, I could still afford these out of my own pocket.
So why stay up at night and on week-ends in front of a computer screen continuously working to improve the Society? The answer is quite simple: I believe there is no other professional association in our specialty which favors such rapid growth in both scientific skills as well as human values.
Horizontal as opposed to Vertical
The main reason for joining a scientific society is (or should be) improving one’s professional skills whether in the operating room or in clinical practice.
The learning process implies that there is a person or a group of persons willing to pass on their skills to another group of persons.
The way this happens in most Societies is with a top-down (vertical) process. In other words, those few that are seen as having the knowledge are asked to pass it on to the others.
It is a familiar learning process to us. We use it from grammar school through medical training.
It is extremely practical because it gives a set of guidelines to follow.
But, it has several caveats.
First, it relies on the ideas of a selected few so that the more conventional approaches to any given problem are generally proposed.
Second, information coming only from the top can be manipulated.
Third, information which is handed out on a dish induces a sense of complacency and does not stimulate the thought process which is at the very heart of any development.
EVRS adopts a different approach.
It provides three important learning opportunities: the Annual Meeting, the training school in Bremen (EVRTS) and a website which contains an unparalleled wealth of information both in the form of articles as well as videos (do take the time to visit it, it is well worth it).
What is important to me, is that in all these three forms of education, EVRS proposes an equal opportunity source of information. Any Member can contribute to the learning process, regardless of age and/or academic position. All we ask is that what is proposed, no matter how unconventional, is good enough to get everybody’s brains thinking.
The general guidelines are, obviously there, but the boundaries of  accepted knowledge are a lot more flexible with a wide spectrum of contributions coming from the Members themselves.
This is what I call a “horizontal” learning process. This is EVRS’ philosophy.
Strength through Unity
What good is it being a great surgeon if you are not given the proper instruments to work with?
As the World goes global so do politicians. Almost without exception, very little attention is generally given by the political class to physician’s needs. They are very quick at picking up the policies applied by other Countries which come to their own advantage.
Perhaps we can’t do much about it, but if we do have a chance it is by presenting our views with the power of numbers.
Think, for example, of the impact a supra-national study can have on a government as compared to a restricted local one.
Another important feature of EVRS is making information available to the general public.
The power of this tool is simply amazing.
An educated public is capable of understanding  the value of what they are receiving.
An educated public opinion could prove an unexpected ally in supporting our needs if they match theirs.
An educated patient is one who can understand the value of  being taken care of  by a qualified professional rather than by one who just happens to be “a nice guy”.
Think of the impact you will have on a patient browsing through our website for a particular problem and finding that you are one of the recognized members of the very society whose information he or she is relying on. And this trend is only in its infancy. In the next few years there will be an exponential use of this instrument by the patient population as they get older, because they are the ones who have grown up with the Internet.
This is why EVRS is constantly working on making as much information, in as many languages as possible available to the general public.
You don’t have to take my word on this. To give you a feed back on just how many of your patients are using the Society’s website, we are introducing a new service, whereby all Members in good standing will get an automatically generated e-mail every time their name is “clicked” upon on the EVRS website.

I hope I have not taken up too much of your time.

If you have read the letter up to this point, I thank you.

You have given me the opportunity to share my thoughts on our Society and its role in these difficult times.

I urge you to live the Society throughout the year, not just at the annual meeting.

Use the website. Contribute your thoughts, your suggestions, your work.

The very best to you all.

Giampaolo Gini  M.D.

Vice-President  EVRS