AAO 2021 Report

Sila Bal, MD, MPH – Fourth-year ophthalmology resident at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Harvard Ophthalmology in Boston, Massachusetts. She is passionate about global community health and will be completing her fellowship in cornea and refractive surgery at Massachusetts Eye and Ear next year.

As an ophthalmology resident training during a global pandemic, national and international meetings took on a new form. In-person meetings were restricted, so we joined thousands of other eye-care professionals around the world on virtual platforms. While we were grateful for the opportunity to continue conferences in this modified way, we missed the power of in-person meetings.

Finally, this November, I had the privilege of attending the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s (AAO) annual live meeting. The energy of thousands of individuals together for the first time in two years was electrifying. Young ophthalmologists from around the world, joined together to share our work and learn from leaders in the field.

The early days of the meeting started with sub-specialty sessions. Whether you were interested in retina, cornea, pediatrics, or glaucoma, there were hundreds of leaders and learners that shared your passion. Beyond the sub-specialty sessions, this year’s exhibitor hall was impressive, giving young ophthalmologists the chance to engage with industry and try out the latest cutting-edge technology. Still, one of my personal favorite things about the conference was the ability to network and participate in hands on workshops.

As a young ophthalmologist, I spent much of my time with the AAO young ophthalmologist division. Unlike many conferences, AAO has a collection of lectures, workshops, and even a YO lounge specifically designed for young ophthalmologists. Every year, a YO specific schedule is created that highlights all the amazing events for young ophthalmologists. This serves as a wonderful addition to the conference and empowers young ophthalmologists to access diverse lectures geared towards the early stages of our careers. While the days are spent, the evenings are full of fun events. My favorite? The Global YO Reception, where we had the opportunity to network (and dance)! 

Ophthalmology is an incredible field and the AAO annual meeting is the culmination of the great minds and innovations that make our profession so unique. This year’s conference was particularly special, given the hiatus of in-person meetings during the pandemic. Young ophthalmologists should make an effort to join this meeting in the future, as the learning and networking were unparalleled.