“I’ve always wanted to serve on the mobile clinic, but never had an opportunity to do so,” explained Karen Choi, Class of 2018, New England College of Optometry (NECO). As a second year optometry student, Choi has participated in vision screenings and eye exams at local schools but had never worked on New England Eye’s mobile clinic, On-Sight. New England Eye is the patient care subsidiary and a clinical affiliate of the College.
When Choi heard about an upcoming community vision screening on May 1, 2016, at the Boys and Girls Club in Dorchester, she jumped at the opportunity. The event was part of a community initiative between the Boston Police Department and New England Eye to bring vision services to the Dorchester/Mattapan community.
Choi joined nine New England College of Optometry students and three doctors from New England Eye at the first event on Sunday morning at the Boys and Girls Club in Dorchester. Second and third year NECO students joining the team included Jacqueline Hinds, Stephanie Michalko, Karen Choi, Rebecca Deffler, Hannah Tennant, Anne Bertolet, Alex Martin, Shannon Moore, Chantelle Davis, and Blair Germaine.
The students worked with residents Kelsey Thomson, OD and Vinh Vu, OD and Dr. Gary Chu, Senior Director of Public Health and Community Collaborations at New England Eye. Together, they provided over 74 eye screenings and 23 eye exams to the community. Helping to coordinate the event from New England Eye were Ina Carducci, Farida Layakoubi, Paulette Tattersall, Kellie Cuadrado, and Ed Braverman. Priscilla Kelanji, from Prevent Blindness, assisted in the intakes Sunday morning.
Paulette Tattersall, Pediatric Program Director for New England Eye On-Sight explained, “This past week our collaboration culminated in a four-day event, along with the VSP (Vision Service Provider) Vision Care Mobile Clinic. We value our community and partner collaborations." The event on Sunday brought together New England College of Optometry,/New England Eye, Vision For and From Children, VSP Vision Care, and the Boston Police Department B3 division to provide vision care, education, eyeglasses, food, and fun to the community.
Building community in the neighborhood is part of the District B-3 BPD’s mission. The police department provided pizza, hot dogs, a bouncy, house and ice cream through their Operation Hoodsie cup truck to support their efforts on Sunday. New England Eye’s On-Sight mobile clinic was parked outside next to the VSP Vision Care mobile clinic. Together, representatives were able to provide eye exams and to produce and dispense prescription eyeglasses onsite that day. Lillian Pravda, founder and CEO of Vision For and From Children, was also on hand to support the efforts of VSP, as well as the screenings from New England Eye.
Both adults and children were seen throughout the day. Doctors and optometric students provided initial vision screenings inside the Boys and Girls club and then were able to refer some individuals to the On-Sight mobile clinic for more comprehensive eye exams or to the VSP mobile clinic for glasses. Often the screenings began with children but expanded to parents as well. Alex Martin, Class of 2017 noted, “I was able to give peace of mind to individuals who had healthy eyes, provide education, and refer patients who needed follow-up treatment. All this while I increased my clinical skills.”
The NECO students expressed their gratitude for participating in the event. “As students we get caught up in studying for the next test or how we can pass the proficiency, but taking a step back and serving people who need our help is more than just learning,” notes Choi. “It's rewarding. I think this is the importance of giving back to your community, with service and with gratitude.”
Jacquelyn Hinds, NECO Class of 2018, agreed, noting, “School can be so difficult at times, but it's events like these were you interact with those that need it most that reminds you why you're going through all the school in the first place. Working with people in the community and seeing their smiling faces when we got them a new pair of glasses was beyond anything I've done before.”
“I enjoyed being a resource and giving patients an entry into eye care,” explained Martin. “In many cases, people had no idea where they could go for eye care. For those that need urgent referrals, I’ll be able to follow up with them on Thursday at New England Eye Roslindale.”
The Sunday event was part of a four day series of vision care events scheduled throughout the Mattapan/Dorchester community with VSP and New England Eye On-Sight. NEE and NECO faculty and students provided vision screenings and eye exams at the Mattapan Community Health Center on Tuesday, May 3, 2016, and the Mildred Ave Elementary School and Chittick Elementary schools in Mattapan on May 4 and May 5, 2016. Tattersall explained, “Many of the students seen had special needs and the majority had never had an eye exam. The school staff did a masterful job working around on-going testing and supporting our efforts. NECO students and faculty, as well as the VSP staff worked tirelessly to compete all eye exams and eyeglasses.” Over the course of the week, over 74 vision screenings and 130 eye exams were completed. From these, 85 people were identified to require glasses and VSP was able to provide free prescription eyeglasses to participants.