Adapting Hands-on Training for Success in a Virtual World: Alcon’s Retina Fellows Institute

Adapting Hands-on Training for Success in a Virtual World: Alcon’s Retina Fellows Institute
Head of Sales & Marketing, Surgical Retina at Alcon

In November, Alcon hosted the third annual Alcon Retina Fellows Institute – a unique educational experience aiming to expand the traditional surgical teaching paradigm by providing small group learning, one-on-one expert guidance and surgical training from world-class faculty on the latest Alcon technologies. The 2020 event gathered 40 first-year retina fellows from across the U.S., all of whom were nominated by industry-leading faculty to participate.

The Institute continues to connect the Retina community and provide training to up-and-coming Retina fellows, even in spite of the challenging and unique circumstances in 2020. This year, we adapted the program to the virtual world with participants virtually rotating through and engaging in a mix of sessions focused on preparing them for real-world ophthalmological practice, including macular survey, vitrectomy fluidics, surgery for eye trauma, diabetic surgery, 3D visualization and more.

Following the event, we compiled the top-three takeaways for success that emerged from this year's Institute.

Virtual education is here to stay

When it became clear that in-person meetings would be impacted, we immediately worked to identify a digital platform that would deliver flexibility and ensure we had the tools needed for a successful event. Our team:

  • Sourced for a platform that would offer both virtual live and pre-recorded content delivery.
  • Explored platform functionalities, including a Q&A option, as well as engagement with polling functionality.
  • Built in enough lead-time to work closely with the faculty leads to ensure the program structure and content was appropriate for this virtual learning environment.

Despite this virtual format we were very conscious to continue to deliver an intimate experience for both fellows and faculty allowing for small group instruction and discussion.  We found that the new format delivered the same appetite and excitement for retina education and innovation for attendees, which was a great barometer for success. One participant shared the following feedback, “The small group sessions were excellent. I appreciated the fact that the facilitators were so approachable and excited about teaching the fellows.”

Moving forward, we’ll evaluate whether a hybrid training model, with a mix of both in-person and virtual trainings, could be an ongoing option to offer flexibility and broader participation to meet the needs of present and future surgeons wherever they reside.

Personalized training is pandemic-proof

The Institute enables direct education in small groups with world-class surgeon faculty for a rich, personalized experience, and opportunity for fellows to receive experiential instruction and best practices. The Institute’s small group training sessions complement traditional learning and offer a unique, differentiated opportunity for development early in fellows’ careers.

We’re proud to see previous Alcon Retina Fellows not only expand their skillset, but also go on to build successful eye care practices. One of many success stories is Nimesh A. Patel, MD who was a fellow in the first-ever Alcon Retina Fellows Institute. This year – just three years after graduating from the program – he presented alongside Alcon Retina Faculty at the annual Retina Film Festival.  

“As an alum of the Alcon Retina Fellow Institute, I benefited from the opportunities to interact with the experienced faculty in a comfortable, small group setting,” said Nimesh Patel, M.D. "This year, as a presenter at Alcon's Retina Film Festival, it was great to be able to share my case and technique with the broader retina community and build on the relationships I established during the Fellows Institute.”

We look forward to seeing fellows continue using learnings from this program to pay it forward for the next generation of ophthalmology leaders and maybe even become faculty for the Institute in the future.

Feedback loops fuel success 

A key part of any program we do at Alcon is asking for input and feedback from participants to ensure continuous improvement and ongoing success. We are always open to learning about how participants experienced our content and how we can adapt it to meet the needs of our customers and the ever-changing healthcare environment. We know surgeons are busy people, and the Retina Fellows Institute – whether in person or virtual – must meet a real need in order for it to be meaningful and successful.

In this year’s feedback survey*, we learned:

  • 100% of fellows rated the faculty very good or excellent, as well as 89% rating the overall program as very good or excellent.
  • More than 70% of participants had positive feedback on the small group discussions, affirming that taking that aspect of the in-person program to a virtual setting was successful. One fellow said, “The small group sessions were excellent. I appreciated the fact that the facilitators were so approachable and excited about teaching the fellows.”
  • 86% of participants said they would like more networking opportunities, which provides valuable learning as we continue adapting to the program to meet the needs of the fellows.

Looking back on the event, it is an honor to have partnered with so many distinguished faculty and leaders in ophthalmology, and to have met the 40 fellows who participated in this year’s program. We look forward to continuing our innovation in retina and connecting with future leaders in ophthalmology in the months to come.

*Survey results as of November 30, 2020. Completed by 17 out of the 39 fellows (43% response rate)

Joshua Anderson is the Head of U.S. Sales & Marketing, Surgical Retina at Alcon and has been with the company for 20 years. He received his Bachelor of Business Administration from Texas Christian University and his Master of Business Administration from Arizona State University. He spent the first 10 years of his career in Sales at Alcon and then transitioned to Marketing 10 years ago, focusing on Retina for the last 7 years. Through his Sales and Marketing experience, he has an in-depth understanding of the ophthalmology field, the needs of surgeons and their patients, as well as Alcon’s surgical products.

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