NSU optometry students to make mission trip to Honduras

(Tahlquah, Okla.)--Cataract surgery has become commonplace in the United States. However, cataracts are a leading cause of blindness in areas like Honduras.

For the third time, students from Northeastern State University Oklahoma College of Optometry will be reaching out to help provide eye care in Roatan, Honduras. The optometry mission, conducted through Student Volunteer Optometric Service to Humanity (SVOSH), is July 28 – August 4.

“Optometric education is enhanced by mission trips in so many ways,” said Dr. Alissa Proctor, assistant professor of optometry at NSUOCO and faculty adviser for SVOSH. “The students see a great number of patients and a diversity of refractive and ocular disease cases. Students are also pushed out of their comfort zone, which helps them grow as individuals and as future doctors.”

The NSUOCO team is expected to include 16 students and two doctors. A local church building will house the clinic. The mission will work with La Clinica Esperanza, which will manage complex cases and cataract surgery referrals.

Cataracts and other ocular disorders often go untreated in areas with limited health care access.

“In other countries, cataracts are a leading cause of blindness,” said optometry student Courtney Bloodgood, who will go to Roatan this summer on her first mission. “In the U.S., cataract surgery is a fairly routine procedure covered by most health insurance companies. In Roatan, we may need to diagnose problems that American optometrists might not see during their careers.”

Megan Kirkpatrick, making her second trip to Roatan, said working in remote locations presents challenges to patient diagnosis for the students.

“The instructors at the College of Optometry do a great job of teaching us skills which are very important to have mastered for mission trips,” she said. “We cannot take our advanced technology with us to help with diagnosing, so we must use every bit of education and clinical experience to determine the correct recommendation for our patients.”

While the unfortunate array or advancement of eye maladies provide abundant educational opportunities, the students say their foremost motivation to accompany the missions is to offer vision care to an underserved population.

“The College of Optometry has helped me develop amazing skills and it was rewarding to treat so many people and make such an impact in four days,” Kirkpatrick said. “Visiting Roatan last year was a life-changing experience for me.”

Visiting the clinics can also be life-changing for the patients. Some arrive nearly blind and leave with functional sight.

“It is extremely worthwhile to give someone the ability to see again or maybe even to see for the first time,” Bloodgood said. “We are able to provide glasses to many people who have never had access to eye care before and that is a remarkable gift to give.”

Clinic patients often travel great distances to receive free eye exams, glasses and eye drops. The generosity of donors and the Tahlequah Lions Club are essential to the success of the missions.

“We always welcome donated glasses – prescription, readers and sunglasses,” Proctor said. "They can be dropped off to any blue box Lions Club donation center, such as at the NSU College of Optometry Clinic."

SVOSH students also conduct fundraisers and request donations throughout the year. Proctor said more than $3,000 was collected during the fall 2011 term for the Roatan trip.

The mission will also receive a tremendous boost of approximately $4,500 from the Henry and Jo Ann McCabe NSUOCO Vision Care International Mission Scholarship. The $100,000 endowment was established in February, 2011, by Henry, chairman and CEO of McCabe Industrial Minerals Inc. of Tulsa, and his wife.

Kirkpatrick said she feels “immensely fortunate” to attend the missions and be a student at NSUOCO.

“Not only do we receive an amazing education but our clinical experience is outstanding,” she said. “The College of Optometry is a smaller school and we enjoy a family-like environment with our fellow doctors and staff members. I never feel uncomfortable asking any question and there are always new learning opportunities to explore.”

Bloodgood also cited the affinity among a small enrollment and clinical experience as reasons she enjoys the NSUOCO program.

“We get much more one-on-one time with our professors and faculty, and we are a very close group of students who enjoy helping one another succeed,” she said. “I am in the second semester of my second year and already seeing patients. We receive a significant amount of hands-on clinical experience and we are honored to learn from such talented faculty.”

NSU’s SVOSH chapter made its second trip to Roatan in summer 2011. Of the 1,010 patients treated during the mission, 257 were children.

SVOSH is a charitable organization dedicated to providing vision care to the less fortunate. To find out more about making donations of eyeglasses or funds for the mission trips of the NSUOCO chapter of SVOSH, or for further information, call 918-444-4000. 

Published: 2/28/2012 9:41:18 AM

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