Behind the Poster: An Interview with Rola Hamam, MD

April 17, 2024

On August 4, 2020, a devastating explosion occurred at the Port of Beirut, Lebanon, killing 218 people, injuring 7,000, and displacing tens of thousands. This tragedy occurred during the earliest and most uncertain days of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as during a severe economic crisis significantly affecting the health care sector in Lebanon. This study explored how the confluence of these three events affected ophthalmology residents and their educational program.

Poster Title: Impact of the Economic Crisis, COVID-19, and the Beirut Explosion on Ophthalmology Training in Lebanon
Primary Author: Rola Hamam, MD
Co-Authors: Alaa Bou Ghannam, MD; Hanadi Ibrahim, MD; Bassel Hammoud, MD

ACGME: Tell us about your academic and professional role.

Dr. Hamam: As the program director of ophthalmology at the American University of Beirut, I oversee the residency program and the medical retina fellowship program. In 2008, I took the initiative to establish Lebanon's first uveitis specialty referral service. I am actively involved in professional societies, including the American Uveitis Society and the Lebanese Ophthalmological Society. Sharing my expertise, I frequently deliver lectures on ocular immunology and uveitis at various national and international conferences and scientific meetings. As an associate professor I am also involved in multiple projects focusing on ocular inflammatory and infectious diseases and education.

ACGME: Can you briefly describe your research project for us?

Hamam: Our research project investigates how the chaos of COVID-19, Lebanon's economic struggles, and the Beirut explosion affected ophthalmology residents and faculty members in Lebanon.

ACGME: What inspired you to do this project?

Hamam: We were compelled to investigate this because we saw how these major events truly shook the health care sector in Lebanon, particularly affecting residents or faculty members in ophthalmology. We wanted to understand exactly what they were going through.

ACGME: What did you discover?

Hamam: We found out that these crises deeply affected the [education and] training and work of ophthalmology residents and faculty members in Lebanon. Many got sick with COVID-19, gear and supplies were running low, and many were feeling the strain on their mental health. In addition, the trauma from the Beirut port explosion added another layer of difficulty for most of them.

ACGME: What was the main takeaway?

Hamam: The primary takeaway from our study is the urgent need for planning for support and resource allocation in case of potential future crises affecting health care professionals. They are the ones on the front lines, dealing with all this stress and pressure, so we need to ensure they are taken care of.

ACGME: Who could benefit from this research?

Hamam: Everyone involved in health care such as hospitals and policy makers in Lebanon and around the world could really benefit from our findings. By understanding the specific challenges faced by ophthalmology professionals, stakeholders can develop targeted interventions to support and protect health care workers during crises.

ACGME: Anything else you’d like to add?

Hamam: We hope our research sheds light on what it's like for health care workers during difficult times like these. By understanding their challenges, we can all work together to make sure they're supported, and that patient care is not compromised, even when everything else seems to be falling apart.