Taking it to the Streets: Vision Care on the Move

The woman standing at the optometry table was picking out a pair of eyeglass frames.

1945 to 2020 | 75 Years of Focusing on Pupils

“I’ll be too hard on these,” she said, testing the temples of a pair of sample glasses. She picked up another pair. “Do you think this shape is good for me?” she asked an optometry student.

It was one small encounter among many at the 2020 Project Homeless Connect event in Hillsboro. The outreach program conducted by the Pacific University College of Optometry, School of Dental Hygiene, and School of Occupational Therapy, which collaborated to provide no-cost health services to underserved members of the community.

Faculty and students in the College of Optometry and the College of Health Professions regularly demonstrate that effective healthcare — and real-world education opportunities — happen in the community, not only in brick-and-mortar clinics. They can occur at nearby churches and community centers, or anywhere around the world.

Optometry student holds up exam sheet for patient
Optometry student Nhung Do OD ’21 provides an eye exam for Martin Hill as a part of Project Homeless Connect on Jan. 24, 2020, at Sonrise Church in Hillsboro, Ore.

The EyeVan, a state-of-the-art mobile clinic run out of a converted RV, is probably the most visible way Pacific’s College of Optometry reaches into the community. At events like Project Homeless Connect, veterans stand downs, the Special Olympics and others, optometry students bring patients in for evaluations where they do a kind of triage.

Does this person need a more extensive medical examination? Do his eyes reveal incipient diabetes? Can her vision be easily corrected, or should she be referred for more specialized evaluation?

As you might imagine, the outreach program is such a valuable resource for our community and an enriching learning experience for our students,” said Jamy Borbidge, assistant professor and director of community outreach for the College of Optometry. “We do see a lot of disease on the EyeVan because we are reaching people who frequently don’t have access to healthcare. In particular, we see a high rate of diabetic eye complications, cataracts and glaucoma, all of which need to be treated or closely monitored.”

For many people, a visit to the EyeVan is the first time they realize they have an eye problem.

“We have people come to the EyeVan with vision at the level of legal blindness that our students are able to correct to 20/20 with a simple pair of glasses. This can change a person’s life,” Borbidge said.

While the EyeVan is closely associated with the College of Optometry, it’s also an illustration of the way Pacific’s health professions programs collaborate. For example, the EyeVan often finds itself in the company of the Smile Care Everywhere vehicle, another RV-sized van where dental hygiene students and faculty members can provide dental care to underserved clients. Thanks to generous support from donors and sponsors, the EyeVan went into service in December 2016; the dental van started operating in February 2018.

People view a display filled with glasses
Project Homeless Connect brings a variety of critical services to individuals and families struggling with homelessness.

In 2019-2020 academic year, the EyeVan’s third full academic year, the Optometry Outreach Program provided vision screenings to more than 2,200 people, many of them elementary and preschool-aged children. The program also distributed more than 640 no-cost eyeglasses to those who sought eye care. Students volunteered almost 3,000 hours of community service time. That’s even with a four-month shutdown because of the novel coronavirus.

But Pacific optometry students also provide service outside the Pacific Northwest, visiting underserved areas of China, Senegal, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Thailand, Belize, Romania and elsewhere through AMIGOS Eye Care, a non-profit consisting of students, faculty members and others affiliated with the College of Optometry.

It regularly sends teams of students and faculty to faraway places where eye care isn’t readily available. On average, students spend about eight to 10 hours per day over three to four days helping patients during an AMIGOS trip.

In May last year, AMIGOS was named the Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity International (VOSH/International) Student Chapter of the Month. The recognition came after AMIGOS had conducted four overseas trips.

“No doubt the experiences for students have been invaluable for their clinical practice as well as instilling a life-long commitment to the kind of humanitarian efforts long supported by VOSH,” the organization wrote in bestowing the award. “And no doubt you had great joy and sheer fun in your adventures while impacting the lives of more than 1,700 patients.” 

This story is part of a collection celebrating 75 years of Optometry that first appeared in the Fall 2020 issue of Pacific magazine. For more stories, visit pacificu.edu/magazine.

Monday, Sept. 14, 2020