Dr Didier Ducournau is what could only be described as a master of his art — vitreoretinal surgery. He has risen through the
ranks to become one of Europe's best assets in the retina world, and today performs around 20 retina surgeries each day. In
this exclusive interview, he speaks candidly about the experiences that have shaped him into the person he is today and reveals
his inspiration for creating the society over which he currently presides — the European VitreoRetinal Society (EVRS).
"In 1999, I endured one of the worst experiences of my professional life. It occurred when I was invited to an Eastern European
country to perform live surgery. I was asked to select some patients who I was to operate on the following day, from a group
of 25, most of whom were monocular and suffered from severe diabetic retinopathy," explains Ducournau. "I realized the patients
I'd turn away would probably never get the chance to be operated on again because, at the time, only one confirmed vitreoretinal
surgeon operated in that country. Although I had no control over the situation, I felt that I was condemning them to blindness.
Things needed to change," he insisted.
"Upon my return to France, I decided that a lifestyle change was required; to work part-time and dedicate my remaining spare
time to sharing knowledge. My wife kindly agreed, even though it meant changing the lifestyle to which we had become accustomed.
I then contacted Klaus Lucke from Bremen, who had also expressed his desire to set up a training school."
As a result of the close collaboration between Ducournau and Lucke, EVRS was created in 2000 and the society held its first
board meeting in January 2001 during the Cancun Vitreous Society meeting. The partnership between the two men worked well; while Lucke dedicated
his time to setting up the training school, Ducournau took charge of the society's website and worked hard to organize meetings,
which took a completely different format to the norm.
At the time, only two types of meeting existed: those that allowed little time for free communication and discussion, where
speaker invitations were often biased, and those that represented an exclusive meeting of the elite.
"I strongly believe that traditional societies need to evolve," insists Ducournau. "The real value in a society comes from
the sharing of knowledge, techniques, concepts and philosophies. Those scientific societies, which are based on privilege,
elitism and hierarchy, and participants pay to be seen amongst invited lectures, have lost their appeal. With EVRS, we have
worked hard to pull away from this format. My true wish is that EVRS will be regarded as a place for generosity and sharing."
Ducournau admits to feeling frustrated. "Where is the real exchange of ideas? Why is basic teaching not offered?" he questions.
"We needed to create something that took teaching back to basics and then through to the latest developments. It was our aim
to provide a different and truly practical teaching of concepts and techniques, allowing the European retinologist to select
the most suitable or adaptable approach to their own modus operandi. We also needed to encourage open mindedness; to create
a space where new ideas were welcomed and not frowned upon. After all, we Europeans have a reputation for creativity and diversity
and we needed to live up to it!"
Perfection is not realistic
According to Ducournau, this philosophy of sharing is not often instilled in the real world. A lecturer is often motivated
to present because they want others to see how a procedure can be perfectly performed to yield the best possible results.
This may be because they are new to their specialty field and want leaders to stop and take notice, or it may be because a
once well-regarded surgeon wants to prove that they still belong in the elite. Either way, we all know that perfection is
not constant. Things can and do go wrong and this mentality does not promote the sharing of knowledge, rather it boosts egos.