Compassionate care

Dr Jennifer Kim tells how her mentor, Professor Fiona Carley, taught her how to see the patient behind the slit lamp

Jennifer Kim

Posted: Thursday, December 3, 2020


It was love at first sight; a perfectly round graft right in the centre of the cornea with neatly aligned sutures. On my first corneal operating list, I assisted Professor Fiona Carley in performing a corneal transplant surgery and I knew deep in my heart that this was the operation I wanted to carry out myself one day. Thinking back, it wasn’t just the surgery that made this experience so special.

A few years later, I performed my first corneal transplant surgery independently, this time with Prof Carley in the assistant’s seat. My heart was racing but with her encouragement and support, I knew that I would be able to complete the case safely and with a good outcome.

It is not an exaggeration to say that it takes blood, sweat and tears to nurture a trainee into a competent ophthalmologist and mentorship is increasingly becoming an integral tool in delivering medical training. Unfortunately, it is often overlooked in day-today medicine due to the enormous service commitment and time constraints that we all face. I was therefore incredibly lucky that Prof Carley had a special gift of turning every clinical encounter into a learning opportunity, whether it was in the midst of a busy ward round or packed clinic.

For me, it was her actions that taught me more than the words. She encourages trainees to think about the patient behind the slit lamp, not just as eyes with pathology or another case to operate on. With this new mindset, I was able to see  the grandmother who desperately wanted her cataract removed so that she could see to write Christmas cards to her grandchildren, and a postman who was on the verge of losing his job as he struggled to see the address on letters due to dry eyes secondary to his graft versus host disease. Thanks to Prof Carley, I am now able to relate better to my patients and provide more compassionate care, a key skill that I will treasure for the rest of my career.

Whilst in training, it is easy to get caught up in the unending competition of chasing surgical numbers and meeting training competencies. However, this misses the point of training, which is to prepare you for a lifetime of caring, professional practice. Prof Carley pushes you to aim for excellence, not just competency and does this whilst making you feel comfortable within your own limits and capabilities.

As my career progresses each year, I increasingly find myself more in a trainer’s role, and I reflect back on how Prof Carley shaped my own training and career aspirations. I feel strongly that it is up to us to inspire our younger colleagues and help them to become the best that they can be, as I was inspired as a junior trainee and continue to be now.

Dr Jennifer Kim is a Specialist Registrar at the Manchester Royal Eye Hospital, UK, and winner of the 2020 John Henahan Prize

Illustration by Claire Prouvost