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‘Tis a meeting for the knowledge hungry

Born of frustration, now a mainstay of education, Cataract Surgery: Telling It Like It Is is no ordinary conference.

It is a meeting formula, devoted to cataract surgery education, that is obviously working:

There is no CME. Surgical education, in many formats, goes on from morning until late at night. The program is built on feedback from conference attendees. The renowned instructors are also attendee-evaluated.

Wet labs galore. Plenary sessions only.

The meeting is called Cataract Surgery: Telling It Like It Is. Devised nine years ago by Robert Osher, MD, the meeting has grown with each year’s passing: 2017 was the largest meeting. Next year’s meeting has moved to larger accommodations, to the Ritz-Carlton on Amelia Island in Florida.

“We started the meeting in Sarasota eight years ago with a small number of curious ophthalmologists and a handful of exhibitors,” says Dr. Osher. “Last year, the meeting attracted almost 600 ophthalmologists and over 100 exhibitors.”

The attendees, he continues, gain an “enormous amount of useful information in an open, honest forum at a great price. In fact, the early bird registration fee of $675 is below cost.”

Dr. Osher says the meeting’s success comes down to four basic elements: relevance, quality, economics and honesty. Physicians, he says, are worn down with bureaucratic demands and regulations.

“It got to the point where we could not effectively educate or honestly talk about products or new techniques that helped or hurt patients,” he says. “CS:TILII cuts through all the bureaucratic gagging, allows the hand-picked faculty, who I believe are the best in the world, to teach freely. And they teach with heart and devotion to each attendee.”

A BASIC: RELEVANCE

The agenda changes every year because Dr. Osher encourages attendees to fill out the conference evaluations, which he reads to determine what beginning, intermediate and advanced surgeons want to learn. “We target all three levels with video symposia on routine, challenging and extreme cases.”

A morning is devoted to complication management and selecting IOLs in difficult situations. An afternoon of new technology features the ‘Showdowns,’ in which surgeons will go head-to-head demonstrating the advantages of new technologies. “At times, it is an all-out combat.” Education, in the world of Bob Osher, is not boring.

The afternoons are devoted to more than 30 wet labs and didactic courses. Surgeons may choose to learn pars plana vitrectomy for complications during cataract surgery taught by vitreoretinal specialists. Another popular choice is the intracameral devices wet lab. Yet another focuses upon iris reconstruction.

There are opportunities to learn new technologies such as CyPass, Xen, phakic lenses and AK/LRI and ocular sealants. A number of new wet labs have been added, including intra-scleral haptic fixation (Yamane). Subspecialty education takes up two-half days before the meeting begins — for early birds, at no additional charge.

Lisa Arbisser, MD, a long-time instructor at CS:TILII, says her four wet labs sold out in a week. “By far this [conference] is the best place to learn.”

Richard Packard, MD, ESCRS Binkhorst Award recipient, assisting an attendee with one-on-one instruction in the wetlabs.

A BASIC: QUALITY

The physicians who teach these courses are well known. They include Douglas Koch, Warren Hill, Richard Mackool, Ike Ahmed, Samuel Masket, Alan Crandall, Mike Snyder, William Fishkind, Steve Safran, Rob Weinstock, Johnny Gayton, Lisa Arbisser, Deepinder Dhaliwal and George O. Waring IV, to name a few (the full list can be found at cstellingitlikeitis.com ). Dr. Arbisser says Dr. Osher has a “knack for spotting teaching talent,” which in turn is recognized by the attending surgeons. If the evaluations show that an instructor isn’t up to par, he or she isn’t invited back. It’s happened, say those interviewed.

Newcomer Marguerite McDonald, MD, will teach a certificate course on LVC for cataract surgeons who encounter an unexpected refractive surprise in premium lens patients. Says Dr. McDonald: “This way, they will learn how to enhance their own post-phaco residual refractive errors without referring them out.”

The wet labs are the reason Janine Grant, MD, attended CS:TILII in January 2017 instead of AAO’s annual conference. Dr. Grant lives and practices in Kingston, Jamaica. She could only attend one conference, so CS:TILII it was.

The wet labs, says the general ophthalmologist, “were the selling point.”

None of this is lost on industry. Said Nextech’s Jeff Wahlberg in Naples: “There is an excitement here with the doctors about what they are learning. [Dr.] Osher would say the teachers are telling it like it is.”

A BASIC: ECONOMICS

A Bobby Osher conference, which has grown to 4.5 days, is not for the stamina-poor: Friday Jan. 19, 2018 lists 16 sessions, the next day there are about the same — not including the 30+ wet labs. Even the dinner hour is packed with education. Friday dinner includes a discussion on perioperative medications. Because comments are not restricted by CME guidelines, Dr. Osher says, these “spirited debates make for a highly educational session.”

“If you have the wherewithal to go all day long, you can get more than your money’s worth,” says Deborah Osborn, executive director of the Connecticut Society of Eye Physicians, who describes an Osher conference as on open, collegial and satisfying event that the major conferences, because of CME restrictions, cannot duplicate.

To prove the point: At the 2017 conference, at 8:15 a.m. on the vendor floor, Brian Schoedel of Testimonial Tree had time to chat because the 600 or so attending physicians were attending the lecture. So did Henry M. Mitchell, president of Crestpoint Management. “There is no CME; they come here to learn,” says Mr. Mitchell. “They sit there all day.”

It’s true, says Dr. Arbisser. “The auditorium is filled from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.”

Says Dr. Gayton, a longtime instructor: “There’s no CME but plenty of E.”

A BASIC: HONESTY

The No. 1 rule that the faculty must adhere to is honesty, says Ms. Osborn, who assists Dr. Osher in assembling the program. “We say, ‘Do not let CME guidelines gag you, and do not let industry influence your talk. The audience is counting on you to deliver a talk that will help them be better practitioners and surgeons.’”

Dr. Osher is aware of the intensity. “After the conference, the faculty is exhausted and some may not speak to me for months.” But, if all have done their job, “every attendee leaves a more confident and knowledgeable surgeon.” OM