Three MCW medical students match in ophthalmology residency programs

Students cite the strength of the MCW medical education program, including research opportunities in the AOIP, as an important contribution to their successful residency matches in ophthalmology.


Research during medical school is an option that is open to all medical students. Those who choose to participate find that it enriches their educational experience and can improve their chances for residency placement. In 2014, three Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) medical students matched to ophthalmology residency programs - Nathan Mathews to the University of Wisconsin Madison, John Flatter to Pennsylvania State Universtiy and Derek Denney to Indiana University. A common experience shared by all three was their involvement with research in the Advanced Ocular Imaging Program (AOIP).

Medical Student, David Kay, participating in AOIP research

MCW research opportunities

At MCW, research opportunities are available to M1-M4 students through the MSSRP program, the scholarly pathways, as well as research electives. Through these programs, the AOIP has provided research experience for 28 MCW medical students since 2007 with at least 11 advancing to ophthalmology residency programs. The AOIP offers students the opportunity to study the living retina with methods available at only a handful of institutions around the world. “Our medical student research program offers the opportunity to study a range of ocular pathologies with near-limitless directions to take a research project. Our goal is to supplement each student’s clinical knowledge by facilitating a comprehensive structural and functional understanding of each patient who comes through our doors,” said Joseph Carroll, PhD, co-director of the AOIP.

Many benefits to students who participate in research

Besides working with the cutting-edge imaging techniques available through the AOIP, medical students hone their general research skills. “The literature searches, data collection, and manuscript write-up allow you to become an expert on a specific pathology all while gaining knowledge that ophthalmologists are interested in; they want you to educate them on what you’ve learned,” said Nathan Mathews.

Less quantifiable benefits of the research environment in the AOIP discussed by all three of the matching medical students is the opportunity to work with scientists and to begin networking in the field of ophthalmology. This increased network of supportive professionals plays an important role in residency applications. “Aside from being asked about my research on adaptive optics during every interview, the connections I made through the AOIP were paramount in matching into a competitive program. In recent years the AOIP has played a pivotal role in promoting the successful match of countless medical students, creating a network of ophthalmologists and ophthalmology residents extending from Pennsylvania to California and just about everywhere in between” John Flatter. Adds Derek Denny, “The research I was involved with at the AOIP was brought up at nearly all of my residency interviews. I felt confident and very well-prepared to discuss the research and its importance to the field of ophthalmology.”

Preparing medical students for residency

“Ophthalmology is a very competitive specialty. There are a few spots per program available and many candidates applying,” said Wanda Martinez, MD, MS, former director of medical education at the Eye Institute. According to, only 75% of applicants matched to ophthalmology programs in 2014, whereas the match rate for other programs in the US was 94.4%. The fact that MCW has advanced so many successful applicants in recent years is a reflection of the competency of its comprehensive medical education program. Dr. Martinez adds, “It is very important to exceed not only clinically but also academically while in medical school to be a competitive candidate. Doing quality research and having the opportunity to have the research presented either here at MCW or at a regional or national forum highlights the applicant’s commitment to ophthalmology and increases the chances that his/her application is taken seriously.”
"Due to the competitive nature of ophthalmology, the importance of research to your application cannot be overstated." --John Flatter

Highly desirable research experience in the AOIP

“The AOIP is a perfect setup for students who want to make this happen. It’s made of these supremely intelligent faculty, graduate, and medical students who are always around to bounce ideas off of—even for projects in which they’re not involved. It’s just that kind of environment,” said Nathan Mathews. The AOIP is proud of Nathan, Derek, and John, along with all of our research alumni. Knowing that their time spent in the AOIP contributed to their success keeps us motivated to continue offering research opportunities for generations of medical students to come.

Contact us

If you are interested in learning more about research opportunities in the AOIP, please contact Joseph Carroll, PhD at (414) 955-2052.

Advanced Ocular Imaging Program
Medical College of Wisconsin Eye Institute
925 North 87th Street
Milwaukee, WI 53226
Phone: 414-955-AOIP (2647)
Fax: 414-955-6690
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