Julia A Haller, MD: Facing Challenges and Finding Solutions in Retina


Dr. Haller discusses issues in diversity and inclusion in retina, but provides avenues for solutions and what needs to come next.

This weekend at the American Academy of Ophthalmology 2021 meeting, a presentation entitled “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Retina” became historic as it was the first time these topics were ever discussed on that stage.

The presenter of the talk, Julia Haller, MD, Ophthalmologist-in-Chief, Wills Eye Hospital, discussed the implications of the topics in retina in an interview with HCPLive and what her presentation encompassed at AAO.

“I went through some of the things we know about how having a diverse workforce makes a difference from the clinic and classroom all the way up to the C suite and boardroom and then dove into what some of the work that we've done, gender representation in ophthalmology as a whole and in retina,” Haller said.

She pointed out that while the data show women residents perform fewer surgical cases compared to male residents, the reason is still unknown. Additionally, Haller discussed data showing women are underrepresented at medical meetings, occupying fewer than 25% of faculty spots at major medical meeting

“The point of my talk was kind of, we've made some progress, but there's a lot of work to be done,” Haller said.

Then, Haller spoke on issues in understanding race and ethnicity, combined with financial and geographic disparities. She highlighted a study that expressed huge disparities in geographic access to clinical trials, where those in rural locations, considered to have lower levels of education, and lower income correlated with less access.

“So, all of the benefits that accrue to people for being in studies like access to cutting edge medical treatment, engagement with scientific investigators, the educational process that you get by being part of all these studies were not available to huge segments of our population,” Haller said.

Further, Haller discussed measures that are being taken to ensure the work is being done in the ophthalmology field, including a minority and women mentoring programs, the Rabb-Venable Excellence in Ophthalmology Program, and the Diversity Equity and Inclusion committee, part of the American Society for Retina specialists.

She made the point that these solutions are going to come from the people directly involved in the process, which involves finding the best and brightest people to encourage them to pursue the field.

“It's a non obvious field for most people, even if they're interested in science, they don't think of Ophthalmology as a field much less retina,” Haller said. “It's a field at the tip of the spear in terms of advances in medicine, in general, from gene therapy, to lasers to lots of other interesting, exciting advancements they've made in our field.”

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