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'A really big deal': UBC at risk of losing eye doctor training program


British Columbia’s only program that trains eye surgeons is at risk of losing its ability to prepare more specialist doctors, CTV News has learned.

Canada’s Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons issued a “notice of intent to withdraw accreditation” designation against the University Of British Columbia’s ophthalmology program, which would be an embarrassment to the university, as well as a blow to patients needing serious eye care.

When asked, UBC initially stated the program is accredited, which is technically true. But when CTV News pointed out that its status is at risk and it’s publicly verifiable in a rare notice to prospective doctors looking for Canadian residency placement in the specialist training program, they acknowledged improvements need to be made to avoid losing the ability to train more. 

“The faculty and the university are taking this matter very seriously and have been working to improve the program in order to maintain accreditation throughout the past three years,” wrote Dr. Ravi Sidhu, an associate dean in Postgraduate Medical Education.

He added that UBC would be providing an update by early summer.

The Royal College would not comment on the situation, noting it’s up to universities to share details, but noted they typically assess training programs every eight years. A spokesperson said 15 to 20 per cent of their reviews require follow-up. 


Sources within the ophthalmology community expressed concern to CTV News that the 2020 designation had not resulted in sufficient improvements to maintain the training program, which would impact patients in the coming years.

Dr. Briar Sexton, a Vancouver eye doctor, surgeon, and board member of the Canadian Ophthalmological Society, is confident that UBC is taking the risk seriously but emphasized the implications are very serious. 

"I think it's a really big deal," she said in her Kitsilano office. “We're training three people a year in this province but retiring closer to six – so just from attrition right now we're losing. We really can't afford to lose those three trainees per year.”

The COS warns that a “silver tsunami” of aging baby boomers will only increase workload for eye specialists, as aging has a major impact on eye health. Right now, macular degeneration alone causes deteriorating vision in 2.5 million Canadians.


Sexton revealed that for years, the BC Ophthalmological Association has been advocating for increased funding from the province to open more paid training opportunities for eye doctors, but found little interest from government.

“It's a politician's dream, because by not funding a spot today, we're not going to feel that shortage for 10, 15, 20 years by which time they no longer have the cycle of needing to get elected,” she said. “It's never going to be an election-cycle problem, which has made it really tough for us to get traction.”

The Ministry of Health says the program is not at risk of closure, but a spokesperson did not explain her confidence in the matter without any new funding or commitment from government.

“The Ministry works closely with UBC’s Faculty of Medicine to review residency allocation on an annual basis to ensure training is aligned with B.C.’s most pressing physician workforce needs,” an emailed statement to CTV News said.

Ophthalmologists like Sexton worry that with most of the public and media attention going to the ongoing family doctor crisis, specialists and patients alike will fall through the cracks. 

I give talks about this and you can just see the shock and awe when I tell (people) we might not be there for them when they need us,” she said. Top Stories

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