Education systems around the world have been deeply influenced by the need for speed, or what George Ritzer has termed “McDonaldization”, a process that attempts to reduce learning to a commodity that can be quickly packaged, marketed and sold.
Complete learning, however, is not mechanistic but organic, and cannot be reduced to an assembly line. As such, education is a rather slow process that demands investment and patience on the part of the teacher and student alike. Asking someone to memorize a series of facts is fairly straightforward, but teaching people to understand the root of a problem, to guide them beyond pre-conceived cultural notions, to encourage them to use their critical thinking to search for innovative solutions in collaboration with others, is an exhaustive and intense process.
Education begins with awareness and understanding, a sentiment echoed by Dr. Bridgitte Shen Lee, a powerhouse of energy and determination. Dr. Shen Lee, born in China but immigrated to United States at age 14, has a unique multi-cultural background that ‘allows her to see things differently’. Her background, coupled with a natural ability and desire to teach, has catapulted Dr. Shen Lee into an unanticipated space in the eye health world – as an educator.
With respect to ocular heath, Dr. Shen Lee pinpoints four growing global eye care epidemics: dry eye, myopia, digital eye strain and retinal disease. She finds that there is a strong desire for evidence-based information globally but that, without a more cohesive and structured collaborative effort, education will stagnate. She suggests that efforts to further educate stakeholders could be three-tiered:
Laughing, Dr. Shen Lee states that, since they were taught human anatomy, eye doctors have always known that the meibomian glands existed but it wasn’t until the recent huge uptick in dry eye cases that doctors truly took notice of the glands’ importance. Nevertheless, general practitioners are overwhelmed with dry eye disease because no handbook on diagnosis and care really exists and in fact, “if you line up ten doctors you will get ten separate protocols.” This missing protocol is due to a number of factors, the primary being that dry eye is a multi-factorial disease with no clear prototype so generalized breakdowns found on are way too simplistic. As such, the anticipated TFOS DEWS II will prove fundamental to the consolidation of education in building awareness for sustainable education.
- Industry and Doctors
It is a simple moot point: a greater awareness of eye health, particularly with respect to dry eye disease, is needed. However, in order for this to happen, more industry participation is needed to assist in the dissemination of the TFOS DEWS II Report and encourage doctors to reference the findings. As many in her field, Dr. Shen Lee primarily treated ocular surface conditions. In 2016, her practice invested heavily in diagnostic and treatment instruments, compelled by the massive uptick in digital eye strain (previously deemed computer vision syndrome) and dry eye symptoms. In addition, dry eye is highly correlated with Meibomian Gland Dysfunction (MGD) and, as a result, doctors in primary care practice need to shift their focus and educate themselves about these epidemics and ultimately, their patients.
Most doctors do not – I assure you – spend their afternoons playing golf and sipping martinis, but on the contrary, schedules driven by economics (insurance) coupled by practice requirements allow for little chitchat between them and their patients. So doctors find themselves running in a veritable hamster wheel because they do not have time to research a patient’s symptoms. Unfortunately, without a deep understanding of a patient’s lifestyle and symptoms, diagnosis and treatment is challenging.
Self-diagnosis should be impeded. Patients touting questionable treatments ranging from snake oil to orangutan teeth via social media platforms should be intercepted and stopped. And most importantly, desperation and a sense of abandonment by health professionals should be avoided at all cost. In order to communicate with patients, ensure they are not haphazardly self-diagnosing and treating, there should be simpler language packaged by industry as well as educational health organizations available in vetted and accessible manifestos. ‘People are thirsty for knowledge’ as demonstrated by the over 50k views on @DrBridgitte’s tweet on Jenifer Aniston’s story regarding her struggle with dry eye disease. But how can we move beyond basic awareness through big-profile figures like Jennifer Aniston to inspire doctors to tuck away their natural hesitation and speak to the masses?
Beyond her practice, Dr. Shen Lee began to ‘swim in the professional speaker arena” and encourages other practitioners to do the same, as information empowers and strengthens further innovation. She also leverages social media, having had amassed a huge following, to disperse ocular health information directly to patients and practitioners. She concluded that many doctors have one thing in common – they have access to information, and many are connected to social media. Shouldn’t our objective – to educate others– leverage the Internet, a medium that crosses borders?
Director, TFOS Global Ambassador Program