To the Editor:

We agree with Ong et al. [1] that trainee research networks offer an excellent opportunity for trainees to get involved in prospective studies that have the potential to change practice. We would like to highlight a further study published by the London Ophthalmology trainee Clinical Trials Network: Eye care in the intensive care unit during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond [2].

We believe there is an opportunity for undergraduates to harness the power of collaborative working, using the trainee network model, with appropriate supervision. For each of the 45 UK medical schools listed on the Medical Schools Council website, we searched the Student Union and Medical Society websites: 25 out of 45 medical schools (55.6%) had an active ophthalmology society. Email addresses were visible for 20 of the 25 societies, and 21 out of 25 had public Facebook pages. The number of student ophthalmology societies has increased in proportion to the rising number of UK medical schools. In 2018, Hsiao and Tatham reported that 18 out of 32 universities (56.3%) had an ophthalmology society Table 1.

Table 1 List of UK medical schools with an active ophthalmology society and contact details.

Student ophthalmology societies facilitate research, networking, teaching and provide exposure to ophthalmology as a career. To support this, Hsiao and Tatham [3] showed that the percentage of students entering ophthalmology training was 1.37-fold greater in universities with an ophthalmology society Table 2.

Table 2 UK medical schools without an active ophthalmology society listed on their Student Union or Medical Society websites.

The existing group of ophthalmology societies with their collection of students interested in ophthalmology could increase research involvement and output amongst medical students and enhance communication, encouraging collaboration between students from different universities. Societies could work together to host conferences such as the National Student Ophthalmology Conference 2022, a collaboration by six student societies across the UK. There is a precedence for research networks amongst medical students such as the Student Audit and Research in Surgery (STARSurg) collaborative, the first national audit and research network involving students from all UK medical schools, which has increased confidence amongst medical students to conduct clinical research [4].

An undergraduate network could help channel enthusiasm for Ophthalmology research amongst medical students and lead to high quality outputs. This is especially important following the COVID-19 pandemic which has reduced clinical exposure, research opportunities and mentorship for students [5].