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NECO Welcomes the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Clinical Educators Workshop

Close to 30 New England Eye clinic directors and faculty gathered on Friday, April 29, 2016 to take part in a day-long Clinical Educators Workshop. The event was part of ongoing professional development New England College of Optometry provides for our clinical faculty.

The first half of the day was hosted by the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University. Their program, entitled Distilling Your Message for Greater Rewards,  sought to help participants learn to communicate more effectively about science with people outside their field, including the general public, policy makers, the media, students, potential employers or funders, and prospective collaborators in other disciplines.   The program was led by Evonne Kaplan-Liss, MD, MPH, Medical Director at the Alda Center, and included Steven Reiner, Suzanne Sarfaty, MD, and Lauren Garlick. 

Throughout the morning, participants engaged in discussion and hands-on practice, focusing on fundamental communication skills, knowing your audience, connecting with your audience, and speaking clearly and conversationally about your work and why it matters.  “In talking about science,” explained Kaplan-Liss, “you need to explain why it matters in clear, vivid conversational language that your audience understands.”


Dr. Thanasis Panorgias, Assistant Professor of Vision Science and research faculty at NECO, summed up his experience after sharing an abstract of his work for a scientific audience and adjusting it for a non-scientific crowd. “It's important to be able to communicate with a non-scientific audience because at the end of the day, they are the people who are going to benefit from your work.”

To highlight the ways in which presenters need to adjust their methods based on a situation, Ms. Lauren Garlick led a session on improvisation. She explained that as clinicians, they need to improvise all the time, and improvisation helps them to stay completely in the moment, listening to patients, students, and colleagues. 

“Improvisation,” she explained, “is training that helps us look at how we take what is coming at us and working with whatever that is.”  Dr. Panorgias noted, “What the workshop showed us is that after you overcome the fear of public speaking and you go through a thinking process, you can communicate effectively in a completely different way that might initially seem out of your comfort zone.”

In smaller break-out sessions, attending optometrists and clinic directors were encouraged to describe communication challenges as the group leaders offered specific feedback. Throughout the exercises, presenters stressed considering the context and setting for each situation, and using personal stories to instill messages clearly to a particular audience—be it patients, students, or colleagues. 

Dr. Dan Bastian, Attending Optometrist at Lynn Community Health Center, explained, “I found it challenging to embrace the skill of communication from different perspectives, but was grateful for the opportunity to come out of my comfort zone.  We all have styles of how we communicate. It’s not until someone challenges you on your style do you realize that maybe there are better ways or things I should do to adapt my style.  Adapting communication skills is hard but important.” 

“The bottom line,” explained Kaplan-Liss, “is to be simple and help people understand why something matters.”  She went on to explain that communication is ultimately about making people care and engaging with them with clarity and empathy. 

All the presenters stressed focusing on the meaning of what you are trying to convey instead of the details, encouraging the NEE clinical staff to be authentic and accurate while still getting across meaning. Dr. Bastian noted, “I felt the experience was eye opening in regards to the nuances of effective communication and the value of personal stories.” 

Dr. Phyllis Andrejko, Clinic Director at New England Eye Roslindale, agreed. “Much of what we do revolves around communication,” she explained. “Being challenged to receive and give information to increase effectiveness and awareness in a variety of relationships/ environments was a rewarding experience. Feedback given by colleagues and facilitators will help me continue to be a better listener and communicator.”

The clinical faculty and staff appreciated the opportunity to share stories, network, and support one another throughout the day.  Dr. Lexi Malkin, clinical faculty and attending optometrist at the Lynn Community Health Center noted, “The clinical educator's conference was a unique opportunity to work with the team from the Alda Institute. I feel more confident with my ability to communicate scientific information to the community members with whom I regularly collaborate.”

Following a luncheon, the group attended afternoon lectures on specific clinical education issues such as inter-collaborative care and expanding opportunities for student exposure to optometric sub-specialties.  

About New England College of Optometry

New England College of Optometry is an independent graduate college of optometry that educates students for careers in eye care delivery, research and education. Located in the Back Bay neighborhood of Boston, New England College of Optometry is the oldest college of optometry in the country. This small, independent graduate institution has been advancing optometric education, patient care, and public health since 1884.  The New England College of Optometry is accredited by the Accreditation Council on Optometric Education (ACOE) of the American Optometric Association (a member of the Council of Post-Secondary Accreditation) and the New England Association of Schools & Colleges, Inc. (NEASC).

Media Contact: Ingrid Hoogendoorn, Director of Communications
phone: 617-587-5722