Leaders in Medical Education

Dr. Hugh Taylor, President of the International Council of Ophthalmology

Thasin Jaigirdar
Sep 17, 2014

Dr. Hugh Taylor is a decorated Ophthalmologist having written multiple books and published many papers. He has also won many prestigious awards including The Lifetime Achievement Award by theAmerican Academy of Ophthalmology. He is currently President of the International Council of Ophthalmology, an organization that works to increase ophthalmic education and improve access to eye care to individuals all over the world.

What drew you to become interested in medicine and ophthalmology specifically?
When I was a student in Australia, one went straight from high school to university, so the decision as to what profession to enter needed to be made as a senior at school. I had become interested in first aid as a boy scout, doing some surf lifesaving and also on ski patrol, and doing something to help other people seemed to be a good idea. Once in medical school, it took a while to settle on ophthalmology. I decided early that I preferred to do something surgical and although neurology and neurosurgery was fascinating, in the end ophthalmology offered a wonderful contribution of both medical and surgical approaches to patient care, it was developing the new techniques of microsurgery and laser surgery that were on the cutting edge of technology and the eye is actually a beautiful organ, almost like working on a jewel box. Of course, restoring vision to the blind has an almost biblical quality to it as well.

What do you say is the toughest challenge facing physicians in developing parts of the world today?
Physicians in developing countries face multiple challenges. These include getting a high standard of training given the limited resources and often the high demands for patient care. Once trained, having access to drugs, instruments and equipment to be able to provide the best level of appropriate care and particularly the support personnel and team members so that they can spend their time doing what only a physician can do with appropriate support from the other members of a health team. Finally, particularly for those working in the public sector, can be the difficulty in finding an adequate salary.

Looking back at your career, you have written 16 books, more than 500 papers, served on many advisory committees and boards, held many positions/appointments, and consulted for many organizations including the World Health Organization. What do you think are the biggest factors in taking you to where you are today?
Probably the biggest influence on me has been some of the teachers and mentors that I have had over time. I will never forget a microbiology tutor at medical school saying you can always do an extra half study or work and it is amazing how that extra time adds up over a semester. I recall the real pleasure I had as a young research student looking through articles because I really wanted to find out what was written, not because I knew I just had to learn it for an exam. Understanding the power of public health so instead of just helping one patient at a time, one could help influence the health and wellbeing of thousands or even millions of people. And one can never forget the joyous surprise of a patient suddenly seeing the faces of friends and family when their eye pad is taken off for the first time after cataract surgery.
The other thing is to have a clear medium-term goal in mind, to keep your day to day work focused, but also to be ready to take advantage of unexpected opportunities that occur and may lead to a significant change in direction, like a sailboat tacking with changes in the wind and the waves.

What are some pieces of advice you would give to an aspiring physician?
Some might say “work hard and keep your nose clean”. However, there are a few quotes I have found important. One, from Lois Pasteur “Chance favours the prepared mind”, another for those who are interested in research from Nobel Laureate Sir Peter Medawar “Dull and piffling problems yield dull or piffling answers. A problem must be important that it matters what the answer is”, and finally from Robert Woodruff, the long standing CEO of Coca Cola “There is no limit to what a man can achieve (I am sure he meant a man or a woman) if he does not mind who takes the credit”.

I would say there has never been a better time to do medicine than today. There has never been a time when doctors could do more to make sick people well, and to keep well people healthy.

What are two or three changes you would like to see in Medical Education going forward?
The changes in medicine over the last 10, 50 or 100 years are just breathtaking. The tools and techniques, drugs and interventions that we have at our fingertips today are extraordinary. Most of the drugs you can just buy over the counter at a drug store, the physicians of 50 years ago could not even dream of let alone prescribe. However, it is really important that we remember that medicine is both a science and an art, it is all too easy to forget that the MRI is of a person, a blood test result, although a number on a computer screen or a piece of paper, is a real life. We need to approach our patients with care, compassion, understanding and listen to their problems.

The other thing to remember is the achievement of excellence requires sustained effort. One needs the continuity of patient contact to understand the evolution and patterns of disease and recovery and this is very hard to get from short shifts and rapid rotations. One needs to spend time to learn. Finally, half of all we learn today will be found to be wrong over the next decade. Our problem is we do not know which half that will be.