Politically Involved as an Optometry Student

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Left to Right: Duc Tran, Denisse Lopez, Reid Cluff, and Dr. Narayanan.

As an optometry student, I admired how the InfantSEE®/Optometry Cares program was established by optometrists lobbying and networking with U.S. politicians.  InfantSEE is just one of the many feats that the AOA – American Optometric Association have made possible to the public and demonstrated support for optometrists. In hopes of becoming a part of the legislative activity, I became an officer of the Student Texas Optometric Association (STOA).  It was my goal to take an active role in the political association that opens doors for optometrists as well as improves the visual welfare of the people. At the Texas Optometric Association (TOA) board meetings, I was very impressed by the leadership and organization that the executive board possessed and they taught me the importance of proper communication with other leaders (I’ll talk more about the TOA and STOA in future blogs). Today, I would like to blog about the active political student leaders at our schoolIMG_20150128_123000 .

The UIWRSO trustees of AOSA – American Optometric Student Association, Denisse Lopez and Reid Cluff; are not only academically outstanding, but represent our school in Optometry’s Meeting and the AOSA Board of Trustees meeting. They connect RSO students to the other optometry students across the US, Canada and Puerto Rico via the AOSA Board of Trustees. In addition to expanding their network, the trustees also write about their school, for example, Denisse has published multiple articles in the AOSA Foresight magazine. The trustees also meet with industry leaders and hold events at RSO to fundraise and support students. Lastly to update RSO with what AOSA is doing and vice versa, the trustees attend monthly meetings and communicate directly with the RSO Student Government Association and Dean.

AOA-PAC is the American Optometric Association – Political Action Committee.  It is a subdivision of the AOA that focuses in fighting for pro-optometric laws. AOA-PAC does not have a local chapter at RSO. It is solely a national organization that has local liaisons assisting in its outreach programs. To support AOA in its political activism, Duc Tran, UIWRSO Class of 2015 and AOA-PAC Liaison, led a luncheon meeting for students to learn about optometric advocacy, where he discussed details regarding the Congressional Advocacy Conference (CAC) in Washington, DC in April 12 – 14, 2015. Duc attended the CAC meeting last year and shared with us his journey talking to politicians with optometric activists.

I’m glad that I have met such great friends and colleagues at UIWRSO, and the message that I would like to share is that optometry school is not just about your current coursework, but the start to your career and begin building your professional network. Your school’s Student Optometric Association is linked to the State Optometric Association which is connected to the American Optometric Association. By getting involved at school, you can open many doors along the way, just like it has for me!

Helping the Community Through FCO

This past week I was privileged enough to follow our school’s FCO (Fellowship of Christian Optometrists) club while they went to a local church to give full eye exams to those in need. Every few weeks, members of FCO, in addition to many professors, volunteer their time and skills to check the eye health of several members of our community in churches, clubhouses, etc. I want to take you through my journey of what I was able to witness during one of these sessions.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect; the President of our school’s FCO, Melissa Gonzales, told me that the exams were going to take place in a church basement downtown. One of the first things I noticed when I showed up was that she pulled out her equipment from her car trunk, but also pizzas from Little Caesar’s. Once we went into the basement, I saw a few people occupying seats waiting for our arrival. She put the pizzas on a table, and mentioned that the pizza was for the patients waiting. This was the first of many selfless acts I saw by the members of FCO.

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Then we ventured into another series of back rooms to the actual “exam room.” It was nothing like what I expected. I anticipated seeing something like our equipment at school, with private lanes, and brand new equipment. It was small, dark, and full of older equipment. The appearance didn’t fool me though; the students and doctors made full use of this equipment, and in a timely fashion. I followed Melissa with her first patient to a private, quiet area. He was an older man, complaining of not being able to see that well at distance and near. When prompted with how old his current glasses were, he told us 3 years old, that they weren’t even his, and that his last eye exam was in 2005. This shocked me! As students, we encourage patients come in every year for their exam and have up-to-date prescriptions; but recognize that this is not always possible for everyone. This goes to show what a great service these students are providing to people who normally would not get this kind of eye care.

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After doing a quick case history, patients are led back into the other room with the equipment, and the eye exam begins. They get all kinds of services, including getting their eyes dilated, refracted, and examined with the slit lamp. They also get their eye pressures checked. Students from all years get the chance to participate and the professors also helped. Dr. Maki manned the tonometer, which was clearly dated, with ease. Colonel Cleland, a preceptor for UIWRSO’s clinics, oversaw the whole operation, helping out wherever needed. The patients also have access to glasses, and the church pays for the cost of the glasses and lenses. They even get to pick from a small assortment of glasses, so it’s not just a one pair for everyone.

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The best part of the whole experience, as I am sure it is for the volunteers also, is hearing how grateful and happy the patients are when they leave. One man left and said, “I really appreciate what you all did for me; thank you so much.” You could tell he was genuinely thankful for these services. It brought me to tears. Sometimes the patients had to wait for a station to open for a while, but none of them complained. They were all very cooperative and helped things run smoothly.

I am really proud to come from a school where students help those who are less fortunate. Not only are these students getting great experience using a wide variety of equipment, but they are also helping their communities. Ms. Gonzales told me that “The only thing I would want people to know about FCO is that we serve people to show Christ’s love. The Lord has blessed us with the opportunity to be in school and learn these skills and we only want to give back to others what The Lord has given us.”

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Listening in and learning at the COVD Convention

Thank you OEP for the student travel grant!  From Left to right: Maggie Fransisco, Susan Ly, Kory Botelho, Nikolai Perez, Current OEP Resident - Sandy Tran, OD, Kelin Kushin, Optometrists Change Lives Writing Competition student winner - Katie Davis, OD.
Thank you OEP for the student travel grant! From Left to right: Maggie Fransisco, Susan Ly, Kory Botelho, Nikolai Perez, Current OEP Resident – Sandy Tran, OD, OEP Executive Director – Kelin Kushin, Optometrists Change Lives Writing Competition student winner – Katie Davis, OD.

The Optometric Extension Program (OEP) helped me travel to the 2014 COVD (College of Optometrists in Vision Development) Convention through a travel grant. I am very grateful for this opportunity because I have been interested in attending since my first year in optometry school. I know that each optometry convention that I attend has their interests and specific courses of continuing education, but what I liked most about COVD was the community’s passion to help their patients. In all the CEs and sessions that I attended, one theme resonated, how can optometrists educate parents and other health professionals about what we do, so that we can give better patient care. I really enjoyed hearing about case studies of co-management of pediatric patients with ophthalmologists and neurologists because I plan to practice progressively to give my patients holistic, inter-professional, health care. COVD focuses on many other topics, for example, below are the COVD statements; you can read more here.

COVD Mission Statement

Improving lives by advancing excellence in optometric vision therapy through education and board certification.

COVD Vision Statement

To facilitate ongoing progress in developmental vision care, advocate for wider adoption of optometric vision therapy, and increase recognition of its integral role in enhancing learning, rehabilitation, productivity, and overall quality of life.

The exhibit hall was like none that I have ever seen before! Due to the specific instruments and equipment needed to practice Vision Therapy (VT) and rehabilitation, I was able to talk to vendors who sell to this specialty and learn more about their products. As a great appreciator of technology, I was drawn to the G-lab booth because they had a stereoscope for an iPad and an app that allows for interactive vision evaluation and therapy. My good friend, Nikolai Perez, the current OEP national student liaison, was a vision therapist before attending the Inter American University of Puerto Rico, School of Optometry. He saw the potential in this instrument and purchased one at the convention. I was really glad that I was able to travel the exhibition hall with someone that has prior experience as a therapist because it contributed to my understanding of vision therapy patients and clinically working with VT equipment in preparation for my fourth year in optometry school. 

Mrs. Benoit and Mrs. Kushin at the OEP Table
Mrs. Benoit and Mrs. Kushin at the OEP Table

Kelin Kushin, Executive Director of the Optometric Extension Program Foundation, gave every student a Brock’s String. Mrs. Kushin has expanded OEP, especially within the optometry student community; she has also helped organized many events with our school, such as a Skype meeting with Dr. Susan Barry, author of Fixing My Gaze, and a Skype meeting with Mrs. Benoit, author of Jillian’s Story. It was also a great pleasure to finally meet Mrs. Robin Benoit in person at the OEP table; she is very friendly and has been conducting Skype meetings with our school for the past two years! The Brock’s String was a thoughtful gift and I was really happy because we have just learned in RSO’s Vision Therapy course the clinical uses for the Brock’s String. In fact, one of our VT professors, Dr. Yukata Maki, Chief of the Vision Therapy and Binocular Vision Service, has just received his fellowship with COVD, under the following rigorous requirements. It is a great honor and Dr. Maki is now board certified in Vision Development and Vision Therapy. The UIWRSO student COVD chapter celebrated his new achievement with a group meeting and a chocolate cake!

Practice Management for the Optometric Student

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Mr. Rob Grim, COE, Eye Care Business Advisor

As a student at UIWRSO, our professional growth and development is always supported by faculty, staff, and administration.  Students interested in pursuing a path toward private practice enjoyed a recent visit by Mr. Robert Grim! He was a guest speaker invited by the UIWRSO Private Practice Club because of his experiences in the business world and in optometry consultations.  Mr. Grim advises with medical practices, physician networks, ambulatory surgery centers, hospitals, and managed care organizations. His expertise includes human resources, employee development, coaching, leadership training, team building, sales training, marketing, business development, strategic planning, financial analysis, and overall practice efficiency. He has been working in the field of eye care for 11 years! The lecture topic was about Practice Management where he catered the lecture to optometry students. Over 70 students attended and Dr. Aitsebaomo, one of our practice management professors, played an active part in integrating Mr. Grim’s topic with application to his private practice! 

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Mr. Rob Grim with Susan Ly, UIWRSO Private Practice Club President

Many people enjoyed the seafood pasta dinner catered by Pappadeaux and sponsored by Allergan. I heard positive feedback from the attendees; most students were glad to have attended this event because of all the business tips they received and they felt like they had a clearer understanding of the optometry sector from the business point of view and from an educator’s point of view. My favorite part of the lecture was how Mr. Grim used numbers and charts to quantify and make his point. The graphs that he talked about kept students alert because they focused on the rising need for primary eye care physicians. He complemented that topic with where that niche is growing. The baby boomers are aging and the graphs showed the students that this correlates positively with aging eye diseases, such as cataracts and glaucoma (see slide below). The future of optometry sounds bright for optometrists and I’m glad to have learned so much from our guest speaker and from our practice management professor.

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A slide from Mr. Grim’s lecture about aging and incidence of eye diseases.

AOA InfantSEE Event at UIWRSO

Dr. Wingert, Mrs. Benne, Dr. Steele
Dr. Wingert, Mrs. Benne, Dr. Steele

On Friday, Sept. 26 at 6:00 pm, UIW Rosenberg School of Optometry hosted an AOA InfantSEE Event in the UIW Rosenberg Sky Room. Dr. Maki, UIWRSO Professor, and Mrs. Benne, UIWRSO Assistant Dean, have worked hard to plan a wonderful evening with Dr. Steele and Tom Sullivan. The purpose of this event was to raise awareness for InfantSEE:

InfantSEE®, a public health program, managed by Optometry Cares® – the AOA Foundation, is designed to ensure that eye and vision care becomes an essential part of infant wellness care to improve a child’s quality of life. Under this program, participating optometrists provide a comprehensive infant eye assessment between 6 and 12 months of age as a no-cost public service.  Read more about InfantSEE here.

Dr. Wingert started off the event with the Dean’s Welcome and left the crowd wanting to hear more about the program. He then passed the microphone to Dr. Steele, AKA Dr. Bubba of Southern College of Optometry (SCO). Dr. Steele’s lecture presentation almost reminded me of class. I really liked how he used case examples of  how an optometrist helped the pediatric patients via the InfantSEE program, in fact, we learned of how the program saved lives. Dr. Glen Steele, OD, FCOVD, FAAO is the current chair of the AOA’s InfantSEE program; his passion for raising awareness is so strong that he travels to multiple optometry school to speak about the InfantSEE program. With his strong educational background and southern humor, I truly enjoyed his message and took it to heart.

After Dr. Steele gave a warm introduction to InfantSEE, he brought Tom Sullivan on stage. He was blind since shortly after birth, but Tom

Mr. Tom Sullivan
Mr. Tom Sullivan

is an award winning actor, author and composer dedicated to spreading a message of hope and inspiration for overcoming adversity. He created a hilarious motivational program for the optometry students or as he calls us “Young Future Doctors;” He taught as to nurture our passion for optometry and the importance of public health initiatives such as the InfantSEE program. Mr. Sullivan shared his childhood, his ups and downs, but what I took away most was understanding the stigma that a blind person faces everyday. I went into optometry wanting to help people with their vision, but it wasn’t until this night that I understood the amount of impact that a pediatric eye exam can have. I was motivated and the passion he brought to stage resonated with the audience as they roared with laughter or listened in silence. Never have a heard a speaker, sing, cry, scream, and educate so well; It was an unforgettable night!

The event ended with a dessert reception. Dr. Steele and Mr. Tom Sullivan walked around the reception to talk to the students and faculty of UIWRSO. It was a great event that was made possible by UIWRSO in collaboration with Allergan and the AOA (American Optometric Association).