The flying classroom
Ahmed Gomaa is medical director of the Flying Eye Hospital
Ahmed Gomaa is a consultant ophthalmic surgeon who recently joined the blindness charity ORBIS as medical director of its Flying Eye Hospital. Gomaa qualified as a doctor and trained as an ophthalmologist in Egypt. He studied for a master’s degree in community eye health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and previously worked for the Flying Eye Hospital as a staff ophthalmologist.
The Flying Eye Hospital is a fully equipped teaching facility inside a DC-10 aircraft. It is staffed by volunteers and delivers ophthalmological training to local doctors, nurses and technicians worldwide, where the need is greatest (www.orbis.org).
What is the Flying Eye Hospital?
The Flying Eye Hospital is a well equipped eye hospital on board a DC-10 aeroplane. The front of the aeroplane is a classroom, and there is also an examination room, a theatre, and a recovery room. People often think that we are there to perform surgery, but we aim to teach local eye doctors how to deal with everyday ophthalmology cases and provide a high standard of care.
What happens on a trip with the Flying Eye Hospital?
Before the plane arrives at the location, the team plan for the visit by meeting with the local hospital committee, assessing the local needs, and deciding which specialties to bring. Our aim is to teach local trainees how to deal with everyday cases. We ask them to choose around 20 cases of easy to medium difficulty. We usually divide visits into two or three units, each lasting around a week, and have different specialties operating each week.
Do you find spending so much time away from home difficult?
I could spend the rest of my life travelling around. I enjoy seeing different people, cities, and cultures; but of course there are other factors that will govern your decision. I think it is best to try and get some balance between time spent abroad and at home.
What are the biggest challenges you face on a day to day basis?
You’re working in a different environment. Everything is new. It’s not your own hospital, it’s not your own country, and you have to be prepared for any surprise or challenge that might happen—and they do happen—such as the electricity being cut off during surgery. You learn from experience, but of course it’s still challenging when it happens. The volunteer faculty travel from around the world, so they have to be prepared to work in different time zones and perform perfectly in front of the audience.
What do you hope to achieve during your time as director of the Flying Eye Hospital?
I would like to maximise the use of the aeroplane as a unique educational tool. The Flying Eye Hospital is like an ambassador of goodwill from countries where care services are well developed. We aim to spread this culture of success and achieve a better standard of eye care in the countries we visit. I like to call it seeding some excellence, which we can help to grow.
What has been your proudest career moment to date?
It was one of my dreams as a medical student to join the Flying Eye Hospital. I read an article about their work during my fourth year of medical school and it completely changed my thinking. I kept the magazine on my shelf and read it occasionally to remind myself that I wanted to be part of this. One day, many years later, I saw a job posting on the internet so I applied and then forgot all about it. Months later, I received an email inviting me for interview. Getting the job was one of the very special moments of my career. Of course, joining the Flying Eye Hospital again as medical director is special, but joining for the first time represented achieving one of my big dreams as a medical student.
What led you to choose ophthalmology?
My father struggled with his vision. He had two cataract operations—the first was done in the early 1990s using an old technique called intracapsular cataract surgery. Before the surgery my father was active and liked to read, but afterwards he had to wear a heavy pair of glasses and his life was turned upside down. Years later, the operation on his second eye was done by a surgeon who had had the opportunity to train on a newer technique outside Egypt (where we lived). Two days postoperatively his vision was back to 6:6 with no need for glasses. That showed me the difference that providing a patient with the best care can make.Emma Rourke, Clegg Scholar, BMJ
Competing interests: None declared.
Provenance and peer review: Commissioned; not externally peer reviewed.
Cite this as: Student BMJ 2012;20:e5019