Love at first sight

“When you teach the Fellows and suddenly you see that a Fellow has had a ‘lightbulb’ moment, that is really powerful”– Dr Ridia Lim

As a junior doctor, Dr Ridia Lim fell in love with ophthalmology early in her career.

“I didn’t have much exposure to it as a medical student, I discovered it as a junior doctor,” said the New South Wales ophthalmologist.

“I couldn’t believe that there was such an amazing specialty that allowed you to look after such an important sense,” Ridia said.

“I loved the surgery, the medicine and the way you can investigate the eye.  I particularly liked that you could make a massive, immediate difference to vision and quality of life with cataract surgery.”

Over time, Ridia also became interested in the silent disease of glaucoma.

“I now treat both diseases and I’m particularly interested in how the two interact, such as with angle closure glaucoma, which is a major cause of permanent blindness in Asia,” she said.

It was a natural progression for Ridia to become involved with Sight For All. The young doctor became aware of the organisation through friends and colleagues and, in 2013, became a volunteer Visionary.

 “I had always wanted to join a volunteer program and I have always enjoyed teaching,” Ridia said.

“I felt that Sight For All was a great fit for what I wanted to do.”

Initially invited by Sight For All Chairman, Dr James Muecke, to be a Visionary for the glaucoma program, South Korean-born Ridia has since worked as a Visionary in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.

“I was born in South Korea when it was very much a developing country,” Ridia said.

“I can see myself in the people that we teach in these countries and I can see the huge potential of their exponential development over the next few decades.”

Ridia most recently returned from teaching in Hanoi, Vietnam, the third Sight For All Fellowship project in which she has been involved.

 “I have been part of glaucoma Fellowships in Laos, Cambodia and now, Vietnam,” she said.

“All three countries have opened their arms to Sight for All and they have all shared a strong desire to improve their knowledge of glaucoma.

“I loved it. It was hugely enjoyable for both the Fellows and myself.”

Arriving in Hanoi, Ridia was picked up by Vietnam National Institute of Ophthalmology (VNIO) hospital driver, Tuan, and a young, keen junior doctor named Dat.

The week at VNIO involved seeing patients, operating and giving lectures and tutorials to the Fellows, Drs Hien, Ha, Giang and Truc. The training sessions enabled Ridia to teach in both a didactic lecture format along with practical hands-on tutoring in the clinic and operating theatre.

“All this work was intermixed with delicious lunches of Vietnamese food and over time, the experience gave me an insight into the hospital and the Vietnamese culture,” Ridia said.

Her most powerful moments in working with Sight For All have all involved teaching the Fellows, Ridia said.

“When you teach the Fellows and suddenly you see that a Fellow has had a ‘lightbulb’ moment, that is really powerful,” she said.

“What you want is to have as many of those lightbulb moments as possible. That’s when you know that you are making a real difference. You know that that will be something that will influence what they do in real life and what they will pass on to their juniors.”

Ridia is inspired by Sight For All’s “teach a man to fish” educational model.

“When there is bleeding you need to stop the bleeding. But in the long-term, it is more powerful to teach people to take the steps to prevent the bleeding in the first place,” Ridia said.

“I believe that more than one model is required to provide medical aid to developing countries. Teaching I believe has the most long-term effect. The teach a man to fish model means that each of the Fellows will then spread their knowledge to the next generation.

“Not only that, the in-country Fellowship is the beginning of a lifelong friendship bridge between the Fellows and the Visionaries and most importantly, it is an opportunity to build a bridge without the Fellows necessarily having to leave their home country.”

Ridia is committed to Sight For All and is looking forward to joining the next Visionary program.

“I am also a Vision 1000 member,” she said.

“Sight for All is an organisation that I have had the privilege of being involved in. It targets developing countries with a program to fully train an ophthalmologist to become a sub-specialist, such as a glaucoma specialist.

“Sight for All teaches to a curriculum. This ensures that by having one Visionary visit for one week per month for one year, the Fellows will learn all that is required. It is a unique opportunity to learn. 

“By teaching one doctor to a high level, Sight for All will ultimately reach the next generation of doctors in these countries,” Ridia said.